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Blog Business How to Write a Research Proposal: A Step-by-Step

How to Write a Research Proposal: A Step-by-Step

Written by: Danesh Ramuthi Nov 29, 2023

How to Write a Research Proposal

A research proposal is a structured outline for a planned study on a specific topic. It serves as a roadmap, guiding researchers through the process of converting their research idea into a feasible project. 

The aim of a research proposal is multifold: it articulates the research problem, establishes a theoretical framework, outlines the research methodology and highlights the potential significance of the study. Importantly, it’s a critical tool for scholars seeking grant funding or approval for their research projects.

Crafting a good research proposal requires not only understanding your research topic and methodological approaches but also the ability to present your ideas clearly and persuasively. Explore Venngage’s Proposal Maker and Research Proposals Templates to begin your journey in writing a compelling research proposal.

What to include in a research proposal?

In a research proposal, include a clear statement of your research question or problem, along with an explanation of its significance. This should be followed by a literature review that situates your proposed study within the context of existing research. 

Your proposal should also outline the research methodology, detailing how you plan to conduct your study, including data collection and analysis methods.

Additionally, include a theoretical framework that guides your research approach, a timeline or research schedule, and a budget if applicable. It’s important to also address the anticipated outcomes and potential implications of your study. A well-structured research proposal will clearly communicate your research objectives, methods and significance to the readers.

Light Blue Shape Semiotic Analysis Research Proposal

How to format a research proposal?

Formatting a research proposal involves adhering to a structured outline to ensure clarity and coherence. While specific requirements may vary, a standard research proposal typically includes the following elements:

  • Title Page: Must include the title of your research proposal, your name and affiliations. The title should be concise and descriptive of your proposed research.
  • Abstract: A brief summary of your proposal, usually not exceeding 250 words. It should highlight the research question, methodology and the potential impact of the study.
  • Introduction: Introduces your research question or problem, explains its significance, and states the objectives of your study.
  • Literature review: Here, you contextualize your research within existing scholarship, demonstrating your knowledge of the field and how your research will contribute to it.
  • Methodology: Outline your research methods, including how you will collect and analyze data. This section should be detailed enough to show the feasibility and thoughtfulness of your approach.
  • Timeline: Provide an estimated schedule for your research, breaking down the process into stages with a realistic timeline for each.
  • Budget (if applicable): If your research requires funding, include a detailed budget outlining expected cost.
  • References/Bibliography: List all sources referenced in your proposal in a consistent citation style.

Green And Orange Modern Research Proposal

How to write a research proposal in 11 steps?

Writing a research proposal template in structured steps ensures a comprehensive and coherent presentation of your research project. Let’s look at the explanation for each of the steps here:  

Step 1: Title and Abstract Step 2: Introduction Step 3: Research objectives Step 4: Literature review Step 5: Methodology Step 6: Timeline Step 7: Resources Step 8: Ethical considerations Step 9: Expected outcomes and significance Step 10: References Step 11: Appendices

Step 1: title and abstract.

Select a concise, descriptive title and write an abstract summarizing your research question, objectives, methodology and expected outcomes​​. The abstract should include your research question, the objectives you aim to achieve, the methodology you plan to employ and the anticipated outcomes. 

Step 2: Introduction

In this section, introduce the topic of your research, emphasizing its significance and relevance to the field. Articulate the research problem or question in clear terms and provide background context, which should include an overview of previous research in the field.

Step 3: Research objectives

Here, you’ll need to outline specific, clear and achievable objectives that align with your research problem. These objectives should be well-defined, focused and measurable, serving as the guiding pillars for your study. They help in establishing what you intend to accomplish through your research and provide a clear direction for your investigation.

Step 4: Literature review

In this part, conduct a thorough review of existing literature related to your research topic. This involves a detailed summary of key findings and major contributions from previous research. Identify existing gaps in the literature and articulate how your research aims to fill these gaps. The literature review not only shows your grasp of the subject matter but also how your research will contribute new insights or perspectives to the field.

Step 5: Methodology

Describe the design of your research and the methodologies you will employ. This should include detailed information on data collection methods, instruments to be used and analysis techniques. Justify the appropriateness of these methods for your research​​.

Step 6: Timeline

Construct a detailed timeline that maps out the major milestones and activities of your research project. Break the entire research process into smaller, manageable tasks and assign realistic time frames to each. This timeline should cover everything from the initial research phase to the final submission, including periods for data collection, analysis and report writing. 

It helps in ensuring your project stays on track and demonstrates to reviewers that you have a well-thought-out plan for completing your research efficiently.

Step 7: Resources

Identify all the resources that will be required for your research, such as specific databases, laboratory equipment, software or funding. Provide details on how these resources will be accessed or acquired. 

If your research requires funding, explain how it will be utilized effectively to support various aspects of the project. 

Step 8: Ethical considerations

Address any ethical issues that may arise during your research. This is particularly important for research involving human subjects. Describe the measures you will take to ensure ethical standards are maintained, such as obtaining informed consent, ensuring participant privacy, and adhering to data protection regulations. 

Here, in this section you should reassure reviewers that you are committed to conducting your research responsibly and ethically.

Step 9: Expected outcomes and significance

Articulate the expected outcomes or results of your research. Explain the potential impact and significance of these outcomes, whether in advancing academic knowledge, influencing policy or addressing specific societal or practical issues. 

Step 10: References

Compile a comprehensive list of all the references cited in your proposal. Adhere to a consistent citation style (like APA or MLA) throughout your document. The reference section not only gives credit to the original authors of your sourced information but also strengthens the credibility of your proposal.

Step 11: Appendices

Include additional supporting materials that are pertinent to your research proposal. This can be survey questionnaires, interview guides, detailed data analysis plans or any supplementary information that supports the main text. 

Appendices provide further depth to your proposal, showcasing the thoroughness of your preparation.

Beige And Dark Green Minimalist Research Proposal

Research proposal FAQs

1. how long should a research proposal be.

The length of a research proposal can vary depending on the requirements of the academic institution, funding body or specific guidelines provided. Generally, research proposals range from 500 to 1500 words or about one to a few pages long. It’s important to provide enough detail to clearly convey your research idea, objectives and methodology, while being concise. Always check

2. Why is the research plan pivotal to a research project?

The research plan is pivotal to a research project because it acts as a blueprint, guiding every phase of the study. It outlines the objectives, methodology, timeline and expected outcomes, providing a structured approach and ensuring that the research is systematically conducted. 

A well-crafted plan helps in identifying potential challenges, allocating resources efficiently and maintaining focus on the research goals. It is also essential for communicating the project’s feasibility and importance to stakeholders, such as funding bodies or academic supervisors.

Simple Minimalist White Research Proposal

Mastering how to write a research proposal is an essential skill for any scholar, whether in social and behavioral sciences, academic writing or any field requiring scholarly research. From this article, you have learned key components, from the literature review to the research design, helping you develop a persuasive and well-structured proposal.

Remember, a good research proposal not only highlights your proposed research and methodology but also demonstrates its relevance and potential impact.

For additional support, consider utilizing Venngage’s Proposal Maker and Research Proposals Templates , valuable tools in crafting a compelling proposal that stands out.

Whether it’s for grant funding, a research paper or a dissertation proposal, these resources can assist in transforming your research idea into a successful submission.

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How to Write a Good Research Question (w/ Examples)

research question research proposal

What is a Research Question?

A research question is the main question that your study sought or is seeking to answer. A clear research question guides your research paper or thesis and states exactly what you want to find out, giving your work a focus and objective. Learning  how to write a hypothesis or research question is the start to composing any thesis, dissertation, or research paper. It is also one of the most important sections of a research proposal . 

A good research question not only clarifies the writing in your study; it provides your readers with a clear focus and facilitates their understanding of your research topic, as well as outlining your study’s objectives. Before drafting the paper and receiving research paper editing (and usually before performing your study), you should write a concise statement of what this study intends to accomplish or reveal.

Research Question Writing Tips

Listed below are the important characteristics of a good research question:

A good research question should:

  • Be clear and provide specific information so readers can easily understand the purpose.
  • Be focused in its scope and narrow enough to be addressed in the space allowed by your paper
  • Be relevant and concise and express your main ideas in as few words as possible, like a hypothesis.
  • Be precise and complex enough that it does not simply answer a closed “yes or no” question, but requires an analysis of arguments and literature prior to its being considered acceptable. 
  • Be arguable or testable so that answers to the research question are open to scrutiny and specific questions and counterarguments.

Some of these characteristics might be difficult to understand in the form of a list. Let’s go into more detail about what a research question must do and look at some examples of research questions.

The research question should be specific and focused 

Research questions that are too broad are not suitable to be addressed in a single study. One reason for this can be if there are many factors or variables to consider. In addition, a sample data set that is too large or an experimental timeline that is too long may suggest that the research question is not focused enough.

A specific research question means that the collective data and observations come together to either confirm or deny the chosen hypothesis in a clear manner. If a research question is too vague, then the data might end up creating an alternate research problem or hypothesis that you haven’t addressed in your Introduction section .

The research question should be based on the literature 

An effective research question should be answerable and verifiable based on prior research because an effective scientific study must be placed in the context of a wider academic consensus. This means that conspiracy or fringe theories are not good research paper topics.

Instead, a good research question must extend, examine, and verify the context of your research field. It should fit naturally within the literature and be searchable by other research authors.

References to the literature can be in different citation styles and must be properly formatted according to the guidelines set forth by the publishing journal, university, or academic institution. This includes in-text citations as well as the Reference section . 

The research question should be realistic in time, scope, and budget

There are two main constraints to the research process: timeframe and budget.

A proper research question will include study or experimental procedures that can be executed within a feasible time frame, typically by a graduate doctoral or master’s student or lab technician. Research that requires future technology, expensive resources, or follow-up procedures is problematic.

A researcher’s budget is also a major constraint to performing timely research. Research at many large universities or institutions is publicly funded and is thus accountable to funding restrictions. 

The research question should be in-depth

Research papers, dissertations and theses , and academic journal articles are usually dozens if not hundreds of pages in length.

A good research question or thesis statement must be sufficiently complex to warrant such a length, as it must stand up to the scrutiny of peer review and be reproducible by other scientists and researchers.

Research Question Types

Qualitative and quantitative research are the two major types of research, and it is essential to develop research questions for each type of study. 

Quantitative Research Questions

Quantitative research questions are specific. A typical research question involves the population to be studied, dependent and independent variables, and the research design.

In addition, quantitative research questions connect the research question and the research design. In addition, it is not possible to answer these questions definitively with a “yes” or “no” response. For example, scientific fields such as biology, physics, and chemistry often deal with “states,” in which different quantities, amounts, or velocities drastically alter the relevance of the research.

As a consequence, quantitative research questions do not contain qualitative, categorical, or ordinal qualifiers such as “is,” “are,” “does,” or “does not.”

Categories of quantitative research questions

Qualitative research questions.

In quantitative research, research questions have the potential to relate to broad research areas as well as more specific areas of study. Qualitative research questions are less directional, more flexible, and adaptable compared with their quantitative counterparts. Thus, studies based on these questions tend to focus on “discovering,” “explaining,” “elucidating,” and “exploring.”

Categories of qualitative research questions

Quantitative and qualitative research question examples.

stacks of books in black and white; research question examples

Good and Bad Research Question Examples

Below are some good (and not-so-good) examples of research questions that researchers can use to guide them in crafting their own research questions.

Research Question Example 1

The first research question is too vague in both its independent and dependent variables. There is no specific information on what “exposure” means. Does this refer to comments, likes, engagement, or just how much time is spent on the social media platform?

Second, there is no useful information on what exactly “affected” means. Does the subject’s behavior change in some measurable way? Or does this term refer to another factor such as the user’s emotions?

Research Question Example 2

In this research question, the first example is too simple and not sufficiently complex, making it difficult to assess whether the study answered the question. The author could really only answer this question with a simple “yes” or “no.” Further, the presence of data would not help answer this question more deeply, which is a sure sign of a poorly constructed research topic.

The second research question is specific, complex, and empirically verifiable. One can measure program effectiveness based on metrics such as attendance or grades. Further, “bullying” is made into an empirical, quantitative measurement in the form of recorded disciplinary actions.

Steps for Writing a Research Question

Good research questions are relevant, focused, and meaningful. It can be difficult to come up with a good research question, but there are a few steps you can follow to make it a bit easier.

1. Start with an interesting and relevant topic

Choose a research topic that is interesting but also relevant and aligned with your own country’s culture or your university’s capabilities. Popular academic topics include healthcare and medical-related research. However, if you are attending an engineering school or humanities program, you should obviously choose a research question that pertains to your specific study and major.

Below is an embedded graph of the most popular research fields of study based on publication output according to region. As you can see, healthcare and the basic sciences receive the most funding and earn the highest number of publications. 

research question research proposal

2. Do preliminary research  

You can begin doing preliminary research once you have chosen a research topic. Two objectives should be accomplished during this first phase of research. First, you should undertake a preliminary review of related literature to discover issues that scholars and peers are currently discussing. With this method, you show that you are informed about the latest developments in the field.

Secondly, identify knowledge gaps or limitations in your topic by conducting a preliminary literature review . It is possible to later use these gaps to focus your research question after a certain amount of fine-tuning.

3. Narrow your research to determine specific research questions

You can focus on a more specific area of study once you have a good handle on the topic you want to explore. Focusing on recent literature or knowledge gaps is one good option. 

By identifying study limitations in the literature and overlooked areas of study, an author can carve out a good research question. The same is true for choosing research questions that extend or complement existing literature.

4. Evaluate your research question

Make sure you evaluate the research question by asking the following questions:

Is my research question clear?

The resulting data and observations that your study produces should be clear. For quantitative studies, data must be empirical and measurable. For qualitative, the observations should be clearly delineable across categories.

Is my research question focused and specific?

A strong research question should be specific enough that your methodology or testing procedure produces an objective result, not one left to subjective interpretation. Open-ended research questions or those relating to general topics can create ambiguous connections between the results and the aims of the study. 

Is my research question sufficiently complex?

The result of your research should be consequential and substantial (and fall sufficiently within the context of your field) to warrant an academic study. Simply reinforcing or supporting a scientific consensus is superfluous and will likely not be well received by most journal editors.  

reverse triangle chart, how to write a research question

Editing Your Research Question

Your research question should be fully formulated well before you begin drafting your research paper. However, you can receive English paper editing and proofreading services at any point in the drafting process. Language editors with expertise in your academic field can assist you with the content and language in your Introduction section or other manuscript sections. And if you need further assistance or information regarding paper compositions, in the meantime, check out our academic resources , which provide dozens of articles and videos on a variety of academic writing and publication topics.

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The goal of a research proposal is twofold: to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted. The design elements and procedures for conducting research are governed by standards of the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, therefore, the guidelines for research proposals are more exacting and less formal than a general project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews. They must provide persuasive evidence that a need exists for the proposed study. In addition to providing a rationale, a proposal describes detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and benefits derived from the study's completion.

Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

How to Approach Writing a Research Proposal

Your professor may assign the task of writing a research proposal for the following reasons:

  • Develop your skills in thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
  • Learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to determine that the research problem has not been adequately addressed or has been answered ineffectively and, in so doing, become better at locating pertinent scholarship related to your topic;
  • Improve your general research and writing skills;
  • Practice identifying the logical steps that must be taken to accomplish one's research goals;
  • Critically review, examine, and consider the use of different methods for gathering and analyzing data related to the research problem; and,
  • Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness within yourself and to help see yourself as an active participant in the process of conducting scholarly research.

A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a completed research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of your proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the findings of the study and your analysis of those findings. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your proposal is coherent, clear, and compelling.

Regardless of the research problem you are investigating and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions:

  • What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and succinct in defining the research problem and what it is you are proposing to investigate.
  • Why do you want to do the research? In addition to detailing your research design, you also must conduct a thorough review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthy of in-depth study. A successful research proposal must answer the "So What?" question.
  • How are you going to conduct the research? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you're having difficulty formulating a research problem to propose investigating, go here for strategies in developing a problem to study.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Failure to be concise . A research proposal must be focused and not be "all over the map" or diverge into unrelated tangents without a clear sense of purpose.
  • Failure to cite landmark works in your literature review . Proposals should be grounded in foundational research that lays a foundation for understanding the development and scope of the the topic and its relevance.
  • Failure to delimit the contextual scope of your research [e.g., time, place, people, etc.]. As with any research paper, your proposed study must inform the reader how and in what ways the study will frame the problem.
  • Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research . This is critical. In many workplace settings, the research proposal is a formal document intended to argue for why a study should be funded.
  • Sloppy or imprecise writing, or poor grammar . Although a research proposal does not represent a completed research study, there is still an expectation that it is well-written and follows the style and rules of good academic writing.
  • Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues . Your proposal should focus on only a few key research questions in order to support the argument that the research needs to be conducted. Minor issues, even if valid, can be mentioned but they should not dominate the overall narrative.

Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal.  The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sanford, Keith. Information for Students: Writing a Research Proposal. Baylor University; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal. International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal. University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Structure and Writing Style

Beginning the Proposal Process

As with writing most college-level academic papers, research proposals are generally organized the same way throughout most social science disciplines. The text of proposals generally vary in length between ten and thirty-five pages, followed by the list of references. However, before you begin, read the assignment carefully and, if anything seems unclear, ask your professor whether there are any specific requirements for organizing and writing the proposal.

A good place to begin is to ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What do I want to study?
  • Why is the topic important?
  • How is it significant within the subject areas covered in my class?
  • What problems will it help solve?
  • How does it build upon [and hopefully go beyond] research already conducted on the topic?
  • What exactly should I plan to do, and can I get it done in the time available?

In general, a compelling research proposal should document your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm for conducting the study. Approach it with the intention of leaving your readers feeling like, "Wow, that's an exciting idea and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!"

Most proposals should include the following sections:

I.  Introduction

In the real world of higher education, a research proposal is most often written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or it's the first step in getting approval to write a doctoral dissertation. Even if this is just a course assignment, treat your introduction as the initial pitch of an idea based on a thorough examination of the significance of a research problem. After reading the introduction, your readers should not only have an understanding of what you want to do, but they should also be able to gain a sense of your passion for the topic and to be excited about the study's possible outcomes. Note that most proposals do not include an abstract [summary] before the introduction.

Think about your introduction as a narrative written in two to four paragraphs that succinctly answers the following four questions :

  • What is the central research problem?
  • What is the topic of study related to that research problem?
  • What methods should be used to analyze the research problem?
  • Answer the "So What?" question by explaining why this is important research, what is its significance, and why should someone reading the proposal care about the outcomes of the proposed study?

II.  Background and Significance

This is where you explain the scope and context of your proposal and describe in detail why it's important. It can be melded into your introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of your proposal. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do. Note that this section is not an essay going over everything you have learned about the topic; instead, you must choose what is most relevant in explaining the aims of your research.

To that end, while there are no prescribed rules for establishing the significance of your proposed study, you should attempt to address some or all of the following:

  • State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction. This is particularly important if the problem is complex or multifaceted .
  • Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing; be sure to answer the "So What? question [i.e., why should anyone care?].
  • Describe the major issues or problems examined by your research. This can be in the form of questions to be addressed. Be sure to note how your proposed study builds on previous assumptions about the research problem.
  • Explain the methods you plan to use for conducting your research. Clearly identify the key sources you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
  • Describe the boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you plan to study, but what aspects of the research problem will be excluded from the study.
  • If necessary, provide definitions of key concepts, theories, or terms.

III.  Literature Review

Connected to the background and significance of your study is a section of your proposal devoted to a more deliberate review and synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation . The purpose here is to place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while at the same time, demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methodological approaches they have used, and what is your understanding of their findings and, when stated, their recommendations. Also pay attention to any suggestions for further research.

Since a literature review is information dense, it is crucial that this section is intelligently structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your proposed study in relation to the arguments put forth by other researchers. A good strategy is to break the literature into "conceptual categories" [themes] rather than systematically or chronologically describing groups of materials one at a time. Note that conceptual categories generally reveal themselves after you have read most of the pertinent literature on your topic so adding new categories is an on-going process of discovery as you review more studies. How do you know you've covered the key conceptual categories underlying the research literature? Generally, you can have confidence that all of the significant conceptual categories have been identified if you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations that are being made.

NOTE: Do not shy away from challenging the conclusions made in prior research as a basis for supporting the need for your proposal. Assess what you believe is missing and state how previous research has failed to adequately examine the issue that your study addresses. Highlighting the problematic conclusions strengthens your proposal. For more information on writing literature reviews, GO HERE .

To help frame your proposal's review of prior research, consider the "five C’s" of writing a literature review:

  • Cite , so as to keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to your research problem.
  • Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
  • Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches, and controversies expressed in the literature: describe what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate among scholars?
  • Critique the literature: Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, and methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, argues, etc.].
  • Connect the literature to your own area of research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from, synthesize, or add a new perspective to what has been said in the literature?

IV.  Research Design and Methods

This section must be well-written and logically organized because you are not actually doing the research, yet, your reader must have confidence that you have a plan worth pursuing . The reader will never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether your methodological choices were the correct ones. Thus, the objective here is to convince the reader that your overall research design and proposed methods of analysis will correctly address the problem and that the methods will provide the means to effectively interpret the potential results. Your design and methods should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.

Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Consider not only methods that other researchers have used, but methods of data gathering that have not been used but perhaps could be. Be specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to obtain information, the techniques you would use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself [i.e., the trustworthiness by which you can generalize from your study to other people, places, events, and/or periods of time].

When describing the methods you will use, be sure to cover the following:

  • Specify the research process you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results obtained in relation to the research problem. Don't just describe what you intend to achieve from applying the methods you choose, but state how you will spend your time while applying these methods [e.g., coding text from interviews to find statements about the need to change school curriculum; running a regression to determine if there is a relationship between campaign advertising on social media sites and election outcomes in Europe ].
  • Keep in mind that the methodology is not just a list of tasks; it is a deliberate argument as to why techniques for gathering information add up to the best way to investigate the research problem. This is an important point because the mere listing of tasks to be performed does not demonstrate that, collectively, they effectively address the research problem. Be sure you clearly explain this.
  • Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers and pitfalls in carrying out your research design and explain how you plan to address them. No method applied to research in the social and behavioral sciences is perfect, so you need to describe where you believe challenges may exist in obtaining data or accessing information. It's always better to acknowledge this than to have it brought up by your professor!

V.  Preliminary Suppositions and Implications

Just because you don't have to actually conduct the study and analyze the results, doesn't mean you can skip talking about the analytical process and potential implications . The purpose of this section is to argue how and in what ways you believe your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the subject area under investigation. Depending on the aims and objectives of your study, describe how the anticipated results will impact future scholarly research, theory, practice, forms of interventions, or policy making. Note that such discussions may have either substantive [a potential new policy], theoretical [a potential new understanding], or methodological [a potential new way of analyzing] significance.   When thinking about the potential implications of your study, ask the following questions:

  • What might the results mean in regards to challenging the theoretical framework and underlying assumptions that support the study?
  • What suggestions for subsequent research could arise from the potential outcomes of the study?
  • What will the results mean to practitioners in the natural settings of their workplace, organization, or community?
  • Will the results influence programs, methods, and/or forms of intervention?
  • How might the results contribute to the solution of social, economic, or other types of problems?
  • Will the results influence policy decisions?
  • In what way do individuals or groups benefit should your study be pursued?
  • What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?
  • How will the results of the study be implemented and what innovations or transformative insights could emerge from the process of implementation?

NOTE:   This section should not delve into idle speculation, opinion, or be formulated on the basis of unclear evidence . The purpose is to reflect upon gaps or understudied areas of the current literature and describe how your proposed research contributes to a new understanding of the research problem should the study be implemented as designed.

ANOTHER NOTE : This section is also where you describe any potential limitations to your proposed study. While it is impossible to highlight all potential limitations because the study has yet to be conducted, you still must tell the reader where and in what form impediments may arise and how you plan to address them.

VI.  Conclusion

The conclusion reiterates the importance or significance of your proposal and provides a brief summary of the entire study . This section should be only one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why the research problem is worth investigating, why your research study is unique, and how it should advance existing knowledge.

Someone reading this section should come away with an understanding of:

  • Why the study should be done;
  • The specific purpose of the study and the research questions it attempts to answer;
  • The decision for why the research design and methods used where chosen over other options;
  • The potential implications emerging from your proposed study of the research problem; and
  • A sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship about the research problem.

VII.  Citations

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used . In a standard research proposal, this section can take two forms, so consult with your professor about which one is preferred.

  • References -- a list of only the sources you actually used in creating your proposal.
  • Bibliography -- a list of everything you used in creating your proposal, along with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem.

In either case, this section should testify to the fact that you did enough preparatory work to ensure the project will complement and not just duplicate the efforts of other researchers. It demonstrates to the reader that you have a thorough understanding of prior research on the topic.

Most proposal formats have you start a new page and use the heading "References" or "Bibliography" centered at the top of the page. Cited works should always use a standard format that follows the writing style advised by the discipline of your course [e.g., education=APA; history=Chicago] or that is preferred by your professor. This section normally does not count towards the total page length of your research proposal.

Develop a Research Proposal: Writing the Proposal. Office of Library Information Services. Baltimore County Public Schools; Heath, M. Teresa Pereira and Caroline Tynan. “Crafting a Research Proposal.” The Marketing Review 10 (Summer 2010): 147-168; Jones, Mark. “Writing a Research Proposal.” In MasterClass in Geography Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning . Graham Butt, editor. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 113-127; Juni, Muhamad Hanafiah. “Writing a Research Proposal.” International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences 1 (September/October 2014): 229-240; Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005; Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Punch, Keith and Wayne McGowan. "Developing and Writing a Research Proposal." In From Postgraduate to Social Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills . Nigel Gilbert, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 59-81; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal. International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences , Articles, and Books. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal. University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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How to Write a Research Question: Types and Examples 

research quetsion

The first step in any research project is framing the research question. It can be considered the core of any systematic investigation as the research outcomes are tied to asking the right questions. Thus, this primary interrogation point sets the pace for your research as it helps collect relevant and insightful information that ultimately influences your work.   

Typically, the research question guides the stages of inquiry, analysis, and reporting. Depending on the use of quantifiable or quantitative data, research questions are broadly categorized into quantitative or qualitative research questions. Both types of research questions can be used independently or together, considering the overall focus and objectives of your research.  

What is a research question?

A research question is a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question on which your research and writing are centered. 1 It states various aspects of the study, including the population and variables to be studied and the problem the study addresses. These questions also set the boundaries of the study, ensuring cohesion. 

Designing the research question is a dynamic process where the researcher can change or refine the research question as they review related literature and develop a framework for the study. Depending on the scale of your research, the study can include single or multiple research questions. 

A good research question has the following features: 

  • It is relevant to the chosen field of study. 
  • The question posed is arguable and open for debate, requiring synthesizing and analysis of ideas. 
  • It is focused and concisely framed. 
  • A feasible solution is possible within the given practical constraint and timeframe. 

A poorly formulated research question poses several risks. 1   

  • Researchers can adopt an erroneous design. 
  • It can create confusion and hinder the thought process, including developing a clear protocol.  
  • It can jeopardize publication efforts.  
  • It causes difficulty in determining the relevance of the study findings.  
  • It causes difficulty in whether the study fulfils the inclusion criteria for systematic review and meta-analysis. This creates challenges in determining whether additional studies or data collection is needed to answer the question.  
  • Readers may fail to understand the objective of the study. This reduces the likelihood of the study being cited by others. 

Now that you know “What is a research question?”, let’s look at the different types of research questions. 

Types of research questions

Depending on the type of research to be done, research questions can be classified broadly into quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods studies. Knowing the type of research helps determine the best type of research question that reflects the direction and epistemological underpinnings of your research. 

The structure and wording of quantitative 2 and qualitative research 3 questions differ significantly. The quantitative study looks at causal relationships, whereas the qualitative study aims at exploring a phenomenon. 

  • Quantitative research questions:  
  • Seeks to investigate social, familial, or educational experiences or processes in a particular context and/or location.  
  • Answers ‘how,’ ‘what,’ or ‘why’ questions. 
  • Investigates connections, relations, or comparisons between independent and dependent variables. 

Quantitative research questions can be further categorized into descriptive, comparative, and relationship, as explained in the Table below. 

  • Qualitative research questions  

Qualitative research questions are adaptable, non-directional, and more flexible. It concerns broad areas of research or more specific areas of study to discover, explain, or explore a phenomenon. These are further classified as follows: 

  • Mixed-methods studies  

Mixed-methods studies use both quantitative and qualitative research questions to answer your research question. Mixed methods provide a complete picture than standalone quantitative or qualitative research, as it integrates the benefits of both methods. Mixed methods research is often used in multidisciplinary settings and complex situational or societal research, especially in the behavioral, health, and social science fields. 

What makes a good research question

A good research question should be clear and focused to guide your research. It should synthesize multiple sources to present your unique argument, and should ideally be something that you are interested in. But avoid questions that can be answered in a few factual statements. The following are the main attributes of a good research question. 

  • Specific: The research question should not be a fishing expedition performed in the hopes that some new information will be found that will benefit the researcher. The central research question should work with your research problem to keep your work focused. If using multiple questions, they should all tie back to the central aim. 
  • Measurable: The research question must be answerable using quantitative and/or qualitative data or from scholarly sources to develop your research question. If such data is impossible to access, it is better to rethink your question. 
  • Attainable: Ensure you have enough time and resources to do all research required to answer your question. If it seems you will not be able to gain access to the data you need, consider narrowing down your question to be more specific. 
  • You have the expertise 
  • You have the equipment and resources 
  • Realistic: Developing your research question should be based on initial reading about your topic. It should focus on addressing a problem or gap in the existing knowledge in your field or discipline. 
  • Based on some sort of rational physics 
  • Can be done in a reasonable time frame 
  • Timely: The research question should contribute to an existing and current debate in your field or in society at large. It should produce knowledge that future researchers or practitioners can later build on. 
  • Novel 
  • Based on current technologies. 
  • Important to answer current problems or concerns. 
  • Lead to new directions. 
  • Important: Your question should have some aspect of originality. Incremental research is as important as exploring disruptive technologies. For example, you can focus on a specific location or explore a new angle. 
  • Meaningful whether the answer is “Yes” or “No.” Closed-ended, yes/no questions are too simple to work as good research questions. Such questions do not provide enough scope for robust investigation and discussion. A good research question requires original data, synthesis of multiple sources, and original interpretation and argumentation before providing an answer. 

Steps for developing a good research question

The importance of research questions cannot be understated. When drafting a research question, use the following frameworks to guide the components of your question to ease the process. 4  

  • Determine the requirements: Before constructing a good research question, set your research requirements. What is the purpose? Is it descriptive, comparative, or explorative research? Determining the research aim will help you choose the most appropriate topic and word your question appropriately. 
  • Select a broad research topic: Identify a broader subject area of interest that requires investigation. Techniques such as brainstorming or concept mapping can help identify relevant connections and themes within a broad research topic. For example, how to learn and help students learn. 
  • Perform preliminary investigation: Preliminary research is needed to obtain up-to-date and relevant knowledge on your topic. It also helps identify issues currently being discussed from which information gaps can be identified. 
  • Narrow your focus: Narrow the scope and focus of your research to a specific niche. This involves focusing on gaps in existing knowledge or recent literature or extending or complementing the findings of existing literature. Another approach involves constructing strong research questions that challenge your views or knowledge of the area of study (Example: Is learning consistent with the existing learning theory and research). 
  • Identify the research problem: Once the research question has been framed, one should evaluate it. This is to realize the importance of the research questions and if there is a need for more revising (Example: How do your beliefs on learning theory and research impact your instructional practices). 

How to write a research question

Those struggling to understand how to write a research question, these simple steps can help you simplify the process of writing a research question. 

Sample Research Questions

The following are some bad and good research question examples 

  • Example 1 
  • Example 2 


  • Thabane, L., Thomas, T., Ye, C., & Paul, J. (2009). Posing the research question: not so simple.  Canadian Journal of Anesthesia/Journal canadien d’anesthésie ,  56 (1), 71-79. 
  • Rutberg, S., & Bouikidis, C. D. (2018). Focusing on the fundamentals: A simplistic differentiation between qualitative and quantitative research.  Nephrology Nursing Journal ,  45 (2), 209-213. 
  • Kyngäs, H. (2020). Qualitative research and content analysis.  The application of content analysis in nursing science research , 3-11. 
  • Mattick, K., Johnston, J., & de la Croix, A. (2018). How to… write a good research question.  The clinical teacher ,  15 (2), 104-108. 
  • Fandino, W. (2019). Formulating a good research question: Pearls and pitfalls.  Indian Journal of Anaesthesia ,  63 (8), 611. 
  • Richardson, W. S., Wilson, M. C., Nishikawa, J., & Hayward, R. S. (1995). The well-built clinical question: a key to evidence-based decisions.  ACP journal club ,  123 (3), A12-A13 

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  • Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Published on 30 October 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 12 December 2023.

A research question pinpoints exactly what you want to find out in your work. A good research question is essential to guide your research paper , dissertation , or thesis .

All research questions should be:

  • Focused on a single problem or issue
  • Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
  • Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly
  • Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly

Writing Strong Research Questions

Table of contents

How to write a research question, what makes a strong research question, research questions quiz, frequently asked questions.

You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question:

  • Choose your topic
  • Do some preliminary reading about the current state of the field
  • Narrow your focus to a specific niche
  • Identify the research problem that you will address

The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve. The table below shows some examples of how you might formulate questions for different purposes.

Using your research problem to develop your research question

Note that while most research questions can be answered with various types of research , the way you frame your question should help determine your choices.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them. The criteria below can help you evaluate the strength of your research question.

Focused and researchable

Feasible and specific, complex and arguable, relevant and original.

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis – a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

As you cannot possibly read every source related to your topic, it’s important to evaluate sources to assess their relevance. Use preliminary evaluation to determine whether a source is worth examining in more depth.

This involves:

  • Reading abstracts , prefaces, introductions , and conclusions
  • Looking at the table of contents to determine the scope of the work
  • Consulting the index for key terms or the names of important scholars

An essay isn’t just a loose collection of facts and ideas. Instead, it should be centered on an overarching argument (summarised in your thesis statement ) that every part of the essay relates to.

The way you structure your essay is crucial to presenting your argument coherently. A well-structured essay helps your reader follow the logic of your ideas and understand your overall point.

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (‘ x affects y because …’).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses. In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

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Home » How To Write A Research Proposal – Step-by-Step [Template]

How To Write A Research Proposal – Step-by-Step [Template]

Table of Contents

How To Write a Research Proposal

How To Write a Research Proposal

Writing a Research proposal involves several steps to ensure a well-structured and comprehensive document. Here is an explanation of each step:

1. Title and Abstract

  • Choose a concise and descriptive title that reflects the essence of your research.
  • Write an abstract summarizing your research question, objectives, methodology, and expected outcomes. It should provide a brief overview of your proposal.

2. Introduction:

  • Provide an introduction to your research topic, highlighting its significance and relevance.
  • Clearly state the research problem or question you aim to address.
  • Discuss the background and context of the study, including previous research in the field.

3. Research Objectives

  • Outline the specific objectives or aims of your research. These objectives should be clear, achievable, and aligned with the research problem.

4. Literature Review:

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of relevant literature and studies related to your research topic.
  • Summarize key findings, identify gaps, and highlight how your research will contribute to the existing knowledge.

5. Methodology:

  • Describe the research design and methodology you plan to employ to address your research objectives.
  • Explain the data collection methods, instruments, and analysis techniques you will use.
  • Justify why the chosen methods are appropriate and suitable for your research.

6. Timeline:

  • Create a timeline or schedule that outlines the major milestones and activities of your research project.
  • Break down the research process into smaller tasks and estimate the time required for each task.

7. Resources:

  • Identify the resources needed for your research, such as access to specific databases, equipment, or funding.
  • Explain how you will acquire or utilize these resources to carry out your research effectively.

8. Ethical Considerations:

  • Discuss any ethical issues that may arise during your research and explain how you plan to address them.
  • If your research involves human subjects, explain how you will ensure their informed consent and privacy.

9. Expected Outcomes and Significance:

  • Clearly state the expected outcomes or results of your research.
  • Highlight the potential impact and significance of your research in advancing knowledge or addressing practical issues.

10. References:

  • Provide a list of all the references cited in your proposal, following a consistent citation style (e.g., APA, MLA).

11. Appendices:

  • Include any additional supporting materials, such as survey questionnaires, interview guides, or data analysis plans.

Research Proposal Format

The format of a research proposal may vary depending on the specific requirements of the institution or funding agency. However, the following is a commonly used format for a research proposal:

1. Title Page:

  • Include the title of your research proposal, your name, your affiliation or institution, and the date.

2. Abstract:

  • Provide a brief summary of your research proposal, highlighting the research problem, objectives, methodology, and expected outcomes.

3. Introduction:

  • Introduce the research topic and provide background information.
  • State the research problem or question you aim to address.
  • Explain the significance and relevance of the research.
  • Review relevant literature and studies related to your research topic.
  • Summarize key findings and identify gaps in the existing knowledge.
  • Explain how your research will contribute to filling those gaps.

5. Research Objectives:

  • Clearly state the specific objectives or aims of your research.
  • Ensure that the objectives are clear, focused, and aligned with the research problem.

6. Methodology:

  • Describe the research design and methodology you plan to use.
  • Explain the data collection methods, instruments, and analysis techniques.
  • Justify why the chosen methods are appropriate for your research.

7. Timeline:

8. Resources:

  • Explain how you will acquire or utilize these resources effectively.

9. Ethical Considerations:

  • If applicable, explain how you will ensure informed consent and protect the privacy of research participants.

10. Expected Outcomes and Significance:

11. References:

12. Appendices:

Research Proposal Template

Here’s a template for a research proposal:

1. Introduction:

2. Literature Review:

3. Research Objectives:

4. Methodology:

5. Timeline:

6. Resources:

7. Ethical Considerations:

8. Expected Outcomes and Significance:

9. References:

10. Appendices:

Research Proposal Sample

Title: The Impact of Online Education on Student Learning Outcomes: A Comparative Study

1. Introduction

Online education has gained significant prominence in recent years, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research proposal aims to investigate the impact of online education on student learning outcomes by comparing them with traditional face-to-face instruction. The study will explore various aspects of online education, such as instructional methods, student engagement, and academic performance, to provide insights into the effectiveness of online learning.

2. Objectives

The main objectives of this research are as follows:

  • To compare student learning outcomes between online and traditional face-to-face education.
  • To examine the factors influencing student engagement in online learning environments.
  • To assess the effectiveness of different instructional methods employed in online education.
  • To identify challenges and opportunities associated with online education and suggest recommendations for improvement.

3. Methodology

3.1 Study Design

This research will utilize a mixed-methods approach to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. The study will include the following components:

3.2 Participants

The research will involve undergraduate students from two universities, one offering online education and the other providing face-to-face instruction. A total of 500 students (250 from each university) will be selected randomly to participate in the study.

3.3 Data Collection

The research will employ the following data collection methods:

  • Quantitative: Pre- and post-assessments will be conducted to measure students’ learning outcomes. Data on student demographics and academic performance will also be collected from university records.
  • Qualitative: Focus group discussions and individual interviews will be conducted with students to gather their perceptions and experiences regarding online education.

3.4 Data Analysis

Quantitative data will be analyzed using statistical software, employing descriptive statistics, t-tests, and regression analysis. Qualitative data will be transcribed, coded, and analyzed thematically to identify recurring patterns and themes.

4. Ethical Considerations

The study will adhere to ethical guidelines, ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of participants. Informed consent will be obtained, and participants will have the right to withdraw from the study at any time.

5. Significance and Expected Outcomes

This research will contribute to the existing literature by providing empirical evidence on the impact of online education on student learning outcomes. The findings will help educational institutions and policymakers make informed decisions about incorporating online learning methods and improving the quality of online education. Moreover, the study will identify potential challenges and opportunities related to online education and offer recommendations for enhancing student engagement and overall learning outcomes.

6. Timeline

The proposed research will be conducted over a period of 12 months, including data collection, analysis, and report writing.

The estimated budget for this research includes expenses related to data collection, software licenses, participant compensation, and research assistance. A detailed budget breakdown will be provided in the final research plan.

8. Conclusion

This research proposal aims to investigate the impact of online education on student learning outcomes through a comparative study with traditional face-to-face instruction. By exploring various dimensions of online education, this research will provide valuable insights into the effectiveness and challenges associated with online learning. The findings will contribute to the ongoing discourse on educational practices and help shape future strategies for maximizing student learning outcomes in online education settings.

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11.2 Steps in Developing a Research Proposal

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the steps in developing a research proposal.
  • Choose a topic and formulate a research question and working thesis.
  • Develop a research proposal.

Writing a good research paper takes time, thought, and effort. Although this assignment is challenging, it is manageable. Focusing on one step at a time will help you develop a thoughtful, informative, well-supported research paper.

Your first step is to choose a topic and then to develop research questions, a working thesis, and a written research proposal. Set aside adequate time for this part of the process. Fully exploring ideas will help you build a solid foundation for your paper.

Choosing a Topic

When you choose a topic for a research paper, you are making a major commitment. Your choice will help determine whether you enjoy the lengthy process of research and writing—and whether your final paper fulfills the assignment requirements. If you choose your topic hastily, you may later find it difficult to work with your topic. By taking your time and choosing carefully, you can ensure that this assignment is not only challenging but also rewarding.

Writers understand the importance of choosing a topic that fulfills the assignment requirements and fits the assignment’s purpose and audience. (For more information about purpose and audience, see Chapter 6 “Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas and Shaping Content” .) Choosing a topic that interests you is also crucial. You instructor may provide a list of suggested topics or ask that you develop a topic on your own. In either case, try to identify topics that genuinely interest you.

After identifying potential topic ideas, you will need to evaluate your ideas and choose one topic to pursue. Will you be able to find enough information about the topic? Can you develop a paper about this topic that presents and supports your original ideas? Is the topic too broad or too narrow for the scope of the assignment? If so, can you modify it so it is more manageable? You will ask these questions during this preliminary phase of the research process.

Identifying Potential Topics

Sometimes, your instructor may provide a list of suggested topics. If so, you may benefit from identifying several possibilities before committing to one idea. It is important to know how to narrow down your ideas into a concise, manageable thesis. You may also use the list as a starting point to help you identify additional, related topics. Discussing your ideas with your instructor will help ensure that you choose a manageable topic that fits the requirements of the assignment.

In this chapter, you will follow a writer named Jorge, who is studying health care administration, as he prepares a research paper. You will also plan, research, and draft your own research paper.

Jorge was assigned to write a research paper on health and the media for an introductory course in health care. Although a general topic was selected for the students, Jorge had to decide which specific issues interested him. He brainstormed a list of possibilities.

If you are writing a research paper for a specialized course, look back through your notes and course activities. Identify reading assignments and class discussions that especially engaged you. Doing so can help you identify topics to pursue.

  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) in the news
  • Sexual education programs
  • Hollywood and eating disorders
  • Americans’ access to public health information
  • Media portrayal of health care reform bill
  • Depictions of drugs on television
  • The effect of the Internet on mental health
  • Popularized diets (such as low-carbohydrate diets)
  • Fear of pandemics (bird flu, HINI, SARS)
  • Electronic entertainment and obesity
  • Advertisements for prescription drugs
  • Public education and disease prevention

Set a timer for five minutes. Use brainstorming or idea mapping to create a list of topics you would be interested in researching for a paper about the influence of the Internet on social networking. Do you closely follow the media coverage of a particular website, such as Twitter? Would you like to learn more about a certain industry, such as online dating? Which social networking sites do you and your friends use? List as many ideas related to this topic as you can.

Narrowing Your Topic

Once you have a list of potential topics, you will need to choose one as the focus of your essay. You will also need to narrow your topic. Most writers find that the topics they listed during brainstorming or idea mapping are broad—too broad for the scope of the assignment. Working with an overly broad topic, such as sexual education programs or popularized diets, can be frustrating and overwhelming. Each topic has so many facets that it would be impossible to cover them all in a college research paper. However, more specific choices, such as the pros and cons of sexual education in kids’ television programs or the physical effects of the South Beach diet, are specific enough to write about without being too narrow to sustain an entire research paper.

A good research paper provides focused, in-depth information and analysis. If your topic is too broad, you will find it difficult to do more than skim the surface when you research it and write about it. Narrowing your focus is essential to making your topic manageable. To narrow your focus, explore your topic in writing, conduct preliminary research, and discuss both the topic and the research with others.

Exploring Your Topic in Writing

“How am I supposed to narrow my topic when I haven’t even begun researching yet?” In fact, you may already know more than you realize. Review your list and identify your top two or three topics. Set aside some time to explore each one through freewriting. (For more information about freewriting, see Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” .) Simply taking the time to focus on your topic may yield fresh angles.

Jorge knew that he was especially interested in the topic of diet fads, but he also knew that it was much too broad for his assignment. He used freewriting to explore his thoughts so he could narrow his topic. Read Jorge’s ideas.

Conducting Preliminary Research

Another way writers may focus a topic is to conduct preliminary research . Like freewriting, exploratory reading can help you identify interesting angles. Surfing the web and browsing through newspaper and magazine articles are good ways to start. Find out what people are saying about your topic on blogs and online discussion groups. Discussing your topic with others can also inspire you. Talk about your ideas with your classmates, your friends, or your instructor.

Jorge’s freewriting exercise helped him realize that the assigned topic of health and the media intersected with a few of his interests—diet, nutrition, and obesity. Preliminary online research and discussions with his classmates strengthened his impression that many people are confused or misled by media coverage of these subjects.

Jorge decided to focus his paper on a topic that had garnered a great deal of media attention—low-carbohydrate diets. He wanted to find out whether low-carbohydrate diets were as effective as their proponents claimed.

Writing at Work

At work, you may need to research a topic quickly to find general information. This information can be useful in understanding trends in a given industry or generating competition. For example, a company may research a competitor’s prices and use the information when pricing their own product. You may find it useful to skim a variety of reliable sources and take notes on your findings.

The reliability of online sources varies greatly. In this exploratory phase of your research, you do not need to evaluate sources as closely as you will later. However, use common sense as you refine your paper topic. If you read a fascinating blog comment that gives you a new idea for your paper, be sure to check out other, more reliable sources as well to make sure the idea is worth pursuing.

Review the list of topics you created in Note 11.18 “Exercise 1” and identify two or three topics you would like to explore further. For each of these topics, spend five to ten minutes writing about the topic without stopping. Then review your writing to identify possible areas of focus.

Set aside time to conduct preliminary research about your potential topics. Then choose a topic to pursue for your research paper.


Please share your topic list with a classmate. Select one or two topics on his or her list that you would like to learn more about and return it to him or her. Discuss why you found the topics interesting, and learn which of your topics your classmate selected and why.

A Plan for Research

Your freewriting and preliminary research have helped you choose a focused, manageable topic for your research paper. To work with your topic successfully, you will need to determine what exactly you want to learn about it—and later, what you want to say about it. Before you begin conducting in-depth research, you will further define your focus by developing a research question , a working thesis, and a research proposal.

Formulating a Research Question

In forming a research question, you are setting a goal for your research. Your main research question should be substantial enough to form the guiding principle of your paper—but focused enough to guide your research. A strong research question requires you not only to find information but also to put together different pieces of information, interpret and analyze them, and figure out what you think. As you consider potential research questions, ask yourself whether they would be too hard or too easy to answer.

To determine your research question, review the freewriting you completed earlier. Skim through books, articles, and websites and list the questions you have. (You may wish to use the 5WH strategy to help you formulate questions. See Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” for more information about 5WH questions.) Include simple, factual questions and more complex questions that would require analysis and interpretation. Determine your main question—the primary focus of your paper—and several subquestions that you will need to research to answer your main question.

Here are the research questions Jorge will use to focus his research. Notice that his main research question has no obvious, straightforward answer. Jorge will need to research his subquestions, which address narrower topics, to answer his main question.

Using the topic you selected in Note 11.24 “Exercise 2” , write your main research question and at least four to five subquestions. Check that your main research question is appropriately complex for your assignment.

Constructing a Working ThesIs

A working thesis concisely states a writer’s initial answer to the main research question. It does not merely state a fact or present a subjective opinion. Instead, it expresses a debatable idea or claim that you hope to prove through additional research. Your working thesis is called a working thesis for a reason—it is subject to change. As you learn more about your topic, you may change your thinking in light of your research findings. Let your working thesis serve as a guide to your research, but do not be afraid to modify it based on what you learn.

Jorge began his research with a strong point of view based on his preliminary writing and research. Read his working thesis statement, which presents the point he will argue. Notice how it states Jorge’s tentative answer to his research question.

One way to determine your working thesis is to consider how you would complete sentences such as I believe or My opinion is . However, keep in mind that academic writing generally does not use first-person pronouns. These statements are useful starting points, but formal research papers use an objective voice.

Write a working thesis statement that presents your preliminary answer to the research question you wrote in Note 11.27 “Exercise 3” . Check that your working thesis statement presents an idea or claim that could be supported or refuted by evidence from research.

Creating a Research Proposal

A research proposal is a brief document—no more than one typed page—that summarizes the preliminary work you have completed. Your purpose in writing it is to formalize your plan for research and present it to your instructor for feedback. In your research proposal, you will present your main research question, related subquestions, and working thesis. You will also briefly discuss the value of researching this topic and indicate how you plan to gather information.

When Jorge began drafting his research proposal, he realized that he had already created most of the pieces he needed. However, he knew he also had to explain how his research would be relevant to other future health care professionals. In addition, he wanted to form a general plan for doing the research and identifying potentially useful sources. Read Jorge’s research proposal.

Read Jorge's research proposal

Before you begin a new project at work, you may have to develop a project summary document that states the purpose of the project, explains why it would be a wise use of company resources, and briefly outlines the steps involved in completing the project. This type of document is similar to a research proposal. Both documents define and limit a project, explain its value, discuss how to proceed, and identify what resources you will use.

Writing Your Own Research Proposal

Now you may write your own research proposal, if you have not done so already. Follow the guidelines provided in this lesson.

Key Takeaways

  • Developing a research proposal involves the following preliminary steps: identifying potential ideas, choosing ideas to explore further, choosing and narrowing a topic, formulating a research question, and developing a working thesis.
  • A good topic for a research paper interests the writer and fulfills the requirements of the assignment.
  • Defining and narrowing a topic helps writers conduct focused, in-depth research.
  • Writers conduct preliminary research to identify possible topics and research questions and to develop a working thesis.
  • A good research question interests readers, is neither too broad nor too narrow, and has no obvious answer.
  • A good working thesis expresses a debatable idea or claim that can be supported with evidence from research.
  • Writers create a research proposal to present their topic, main research question, subquestions, and working thesis to an instructor for approval or feedback.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • v.60(9); 2016 Sep

How to write a research proposal?

Department of Anaesthesiology, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Devika Rani Duggappa

Writing the proposal of a research work in the present era is a challenging task due to the constantly evolving trends in the qualitative research design and the need to incorporate medical advances into the methodology. The proposal is a detailed plan or ‘blueprint’ for the intended study, and once it is completed, the research project should flow smoothly. Even today, many of the proposals at post-graduate evaluation committees and application proposals for funding are substandard. A search was conducted with keywords such as research proposal, writing proposal and qualitative using search engines, namely, PubMed and Google Scholar, and an attempt has been made to provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.


A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research.[ 1 ] The objective of preparing a research proposal would be to obtain approvals from various committees including ethics committee [details under ‘Research methodology II’ section [ Table 1 ] in this issue of IJA) and to request for grants. However, there are very few universally accepted guidelines for preparation of a good quality research proposal. A search was performed with keywords such as research proposal, funding, qualitative and writing proposals using search engines, namely, PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus.

Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review

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A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer.[ 2 ] The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practicality and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design.[ 3 ] Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal. Tips for preparation of a good research proposal include; ‘be practical, be persuasive, make broader links, aim for crystal clarity and plan before you write’. A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval. The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.[ 4 , 5 ]


The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.

In general, a cover page should contain the (i) title of the proposal, (ii) name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators, (iii) institutional affiliation (degree of the investigator and the name of institution where the study will be performed), details of contact such as phone numbers, E-mail id's and lines for signatures of investigators.

The main contents of the proposal may be presented under the following headings: (i) introduction, (ii) review of literature, (iii) aims and objectives, (iv) research design and methods, (v) ethical considerations, (vi) budget, (vii) appendices and (viii) citations.[ 4 ]


It is also sometimes termed as ‘need for study’ or ‘abstract’. Introduction is an initial pitch of an idea; it sets the scene and puts the research in context.[ 6 ] The introduction should be designed to create interest in the reader about the topic and proposal. It should convey to the reader, what you want to do, what necessitates the study and your passion for the topic.[ 7 ] Some questions that can be used to assess the significance of the study are: (i) Who has an interest in the domain of inquiry? (ii) What do we already know about the topic? (iii) What has not been answered adequately in previous research and practice? (iv) How will this research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this area? Some of the evaluation committees, expect the last two questions, elaborated under a separate heading of ‘background and significance’.[ 8 ] Introduction should also contain the hypothesis behind the research design. If hypothesis cannot be constructed, the line of inquiry to be used in the research must be indicated.

Review of literature

It refers to all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. In the present era of digitalisation and easy accessibility, there is an enormous amount of relevant data available, making it a challenge for the researcher to include all of it in his/her review.[ 9 ] It is crucial to structure this section intelligently so that the reader can grasp the argument related to your study in relation to that of other researchers, while still demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. It is preferable to summarise each article in a paragraph, highlighting the details pertinent to the topic of interest. The progression of review can move from the more general to the more focused studies, or a historical progression can be used to develop the story, without making it exhaustive.[ 1 ] Literature should include supporting data, disagreements and controversies. Five ‘C's may be kept in mind while writing a literature review[ 10 ] [ Table 1 ].

Aims and objectives

The research purpose (or goal or aim) gives a broad indication of what the researcher wishes to achieve in the research. The hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. The objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.

Research design and method

The objective here is to convince the reader that the overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the research problem and to impress upon the reader that the methodology/sources chosen are appropriate for the specific topic. It should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.

In this section, the methods and sources used to conduct the research must be discussed, including specific references to sites, databases, key texts or authors that will be indispensable to the project. There should be specific mention about the methodological approaches to be undertaken to gather information, about the techniques to be used to analyse it and about the tests of external validity to which researcher is committed.[ 10 , 11 ]

The components of this section include the following:[ 4 ]

Population and sample

Population refers to all the elements (individuals, objects or substances) that meet certain criteria for inclusion in a given universe,[ 12 ] and sample refers to subset of population which meets the inclusion criteria for enrolment into the study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria should be clearly defined. The details pertaining to sample size are discussed in the article “Sample size calculation: Basic priniciples” published in this issue of IJA.

Data collection

The researcher is expected to give a detailed account of the methodology adopted for collection of data, which include the time frame required for the research. The methodology should be tested for its validity and ensure that, in pursuit of achieving the results, the participant's life is not jeopardised. The author should anticipate and acknowledge any potential barrier and pitfall in carrying out the research design and explain plans to address them, thereby avoiding lacunae due to incomplete data collection. If the researcher is planning to acquire data through interviews or questionnaires, copy of the questions used for the same should be attached as an annexure with the proposal.

Rigor (soundness of the research)

This addresses the strength of the research with respect to its neutrality, consistency and applicability. Rigor must be reflected throughout the proposal.

It refers to the robustness of a research method against bias. The author should convey the measures taken to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, in an elaborate way, thus ensuring that the result obtained from the adopted method is purely as chance and not influenced by other confounding variables.


Consistency considers whether the findings will be consistent if the inquiry was replicated with the same participants and in a similar context. This can be achieved by adopting standard and universally accepted methods and scales.


Applicability refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to different contexts and groups.[ 13 ]

Data analysis

This section deals with the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis including sample size calculation. The researcher is expected to explain the steps adopted for coding and sorting the data obtained. Various tests to be used to analyse the data for its robustness, significance should be clearly stated. Author should also mention the names of statistician and suitable software which will be used in due course of data analysis and their contribution to data analysis and sample calculation.[ 9 ]

Ethical considerations

Medical research introduces special moral and ethical problems that are not usually encountered by other researchers during data collection, and hence, the researcher should take special care in ensuring that ethical standards are met. Ethical considerations refer to the protection of the participants' rights (right to self-determination, right to privacy, right to autonomy and confidentiality, right to fair treatment and right to protection from discomfort and harm), obtaining informed consent and the institutional review process (ethical approval). The researcher needs to provide adequate information on each of these aspects.

Informed consent needs to be obtained from the participants (details discussed in further chapters), as well as the research site and the relevant authorities.

When the researcher prepares a research budget, he/she should predict and cost all aspects of the research and then add an additional allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays and rising costs. All items in the budget should be justified.

Appendices are documents that support the proposal and application. The appendices will be specific for each proposal but documents that are usually required include informed consent form, supporting documents, questionnaires, measurement tools and patient information of the study in layman's language.

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. Although the words ‘references and bibliography’ are different, they are used interchangeably. It refers to all references cited in the research proposal.

Successful, qualitative research proposals should communicate the researcher's knowledge of the field and method and convey the emergent nature of the qualitative design. The proposal should follow a discernible logic from the introduction to presentation of the appendices.

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How To Write A Research Proposal

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How To Write A Research Proposal Explained!

Imagine this: you're sitting in your cluttered dorm room, surrounded by piles of books and stacks of notes. It's the middle of the night, and you're desperately trying to piece together your thoughts for that looming research proposal deadline. The pressure is on – you know this research proposal could be the ticket to kickstarting your academic career or securing that much-needed funding for your groundbreaking research idea. But how to write a research proposal? Don't worry, you're not alone. Making a research proposal can seem daunting, but fear not – with the right approach, it's entirely achievable. In this blog, we'll take you through each step of writing a research proposal, from understanding the basics to putting together a winning research proposal that grabs attention and gets results. 

What is a research proposal used for, and why is it important?

A research proposal is important because it helps determine if there is enough expertise to support your research area. It is a key part of evaluating your application, showing that your project is feasible and fits within the institution's strengths. However, the proposal is just the beginning. Your ideas will likely change as you delve deeper into your research, but it provides a clear starting point. This initial plan helps both you and the institution understand the potential direction and significance of your research, laying solid foundations for your future. 

What Things to keep in mind while writing a research proposal?

Academics often need to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might need to write one when applying to grad school or before starting your thesis or dissertation. A proposal helps you shape your research plans and shows why your project is valuable to funders, educational institutions, or supervisors.

  • Relevance: Show your reader why your project is interesting, unique, and important.
  • Context: Show that you are comfortable and knowledgeable in your field. Make it clear that you understand the current research on your topic.
  • Approach: Explain why you chose your methodology. Show that you've thought carefully about the data, tools, and steps needed to do your research.
  • Achievability: Make sure your project can be done within the time frame of your program or funding deadline.
  • Tone: When you write research proposals or any academic work, keep it formal and objective. Remember, being clear and to the point is important. Keep your writing concise; being formal doesn't mean using fancy language.

How long should my research proposal be?

Usually, research proposals for bachelor’s and master’s theses are just a few pages. But for bigger projects like Ph.D. dissertations or asking for funding, they can be longer and more detailed. The main aim of a research proposal is to explain what your research will do clearly. So, while the length of the proposal matters less, what’s really important is that you cover all the necessary information in it.

Sections of a research proposal

Research proposals usually have a simple layout. To meet the goals we talked about earlier, here’s how to write a research proposal:

If your proposal is really long, you might want to add a summary and a list of what's inside to help your reader find their way around. Just like your dissertation or thesis, your proposal should have a title page with the following

  • The title of your project
  • Your supervisor’s name
  • Your school and department

Introduction section of research proposal

The beginning of your proposal is like the first pitch for your project. Make it clear and brief, explaining what you want to do and why.

In your introduction:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Provide background and context
  • Explain the problem you're addressing and your research questions

To help you with your introduction, include:

  • Who might care about your topic (like scientists or policymakers)
  • What's already known about it
  • What's still unknown
  • How your research will add new information
  • Why do you think this research matters

Literature review

As you begin, it's important to show that you know about the key research on your topic. A good literature review tells your reader that your project is based on solid existing knowledge. It also shows that you're not just repeating what others have said but adding something new.

In this part, explain how your project fits into the ongoing discussion in the field by:

  • Comparing different theories, methods, and debates
  • Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of different ideas
  • Saying how you'll use past research in your own work - whether you'll build on it, challenge it, or bring it together with new ideas

If you're not sure where to start, check out our guide on writing a literature review.

Background significance

Your background section sets the stage for your research. Here, you explain why your topic matters and what questions you're trying to answer. It's like showing the backstory of your project, giving readers a clear picture of why it's worth their attention. In your research proposal, it's crucial to cover:

  • Background and why your research is important
  • Your field of study
  • A brief look at existing research
  • The main arguments and changes happening in your area

Research design, methods, and schedule

After looking at existing research, it's time to talk about your plans in this methodology section of a research proposal. One key thing to remember when learning how to write a research proposal is to include details about your research methods, like how you'll collect data and analyse it. Here's what your materials and methods in research proposal should cover:

  • What kind of research you'll be doing - qualitative or quantitative, and whether you're gathering new data or using existing data.
  • Whether your research is experimental, looking at connections, or describing things.
  • Details about your data - if you're in social sciences, who you're studying and how you'll pick them.
  • The tools you'll use to gather data - like experiments, surveys, or observations, and why they're right for your research.

When figuring out how to write a research proposal, start by clearly stating your research question and explaining why it's important and don't forget to include:

  • Your timeline for the research.
  • How much money do you need?
  • Any problems you might face and how you'll deal with them.

Suppositions and Implications

Even though you won't know your research results until you do the work, you should have a clear idea of how your project will help and contribute to your field. Knowing how to write a research proposal also involves explaining the potential impact of your study. This part of your research proposal is extremely crucial because it explains why your research is necessary.

In this section on how to write a research proposal, make sure you cover the following:

  • How your work might challenge current ideas, theories and assumptions in your field.
  • Why your research is a good starting point for future studies.
  • How your findings could be useful for professionals, teachers, and other researchers.
  • The problems your research could potentially help solve.
  • Any rules or guidelines that could change because of what you find.
  • How your research could be used in schools or other places, and how that'll make things better.

Basically, in this section of a research proposal, you're not saying exactly what you'll find. Instead, you're explaining why whatever you discover will be important.

When applying for research funding, it's likely you'll need to provide a thorough budget. This demonstrates your projected costs for different aspects of your project. Be sure to review the funding body's guidelines to see what expenses they're willing to fund. For each item in your budget, include:

  • Cost : How much money do you need?
  • Why : Why do you need this money for your research?
  • Source : How did you figure out this amount?

When you're making your budget, think about:

  • Travel : Do you need to go somewhere to get your data? How will you get there, and how long will it take? What will you do there?
  • Materials : Do you need any special tools or tech?
  • Help : Do you need to hire someone to help with your research? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?

In this section of a research proposal, you tie everything together. Your conclusion section, much like the conclusion paragraph of an essay, gives a quick rundown of your research proposal and strengthens the purpose you've laid out. It reminds the reader of the main points and emphasises why your research matters. It's your final chance to leave a lasting impression and make a case for the importance of your work.


Writing a bibliography is essential alongside your literature review. In this part of your research proposal structure, unlike the review, where you explain why you chose your sources and sometimes even question them. The bibliography just lists your sources and who wrote them.

Citing depends on the style guide, like MLA , APA , or Chicago . Each has its own rules, even for unusual sources like websites or speeches. If you don't need a full bibliography, a references list with just the sources you cited is enough. If unsure, ask your supervisor.  Be sure to include:

  • A list of references to important articles and texts you talked about in your research proposal.
  • Choose sources that fit well with your proposed research.

Editing and proofreading a research proposal

When writing a research proposal, use the same six-step process you apply to all your writing tasks. Once you've drafted it, give it some time to cool off before proofreading. This helps you spot errors and gaps more effectively, ensuring a polished final version. Taking breaks between writing and revising enhances the quality of your work.

Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal

When you’re writing a research proposal, avoid these common pitfalls: 

Being too wordy

Remember, being formal doesn't mean using fancy words. In fact, it's best to keep your writing short and direct. The clearer and more concise you are about your purpose and goals, the stronger your proposal will be.

Failing to cite relevant sources

When you do research, you contribute to what we already know about your topic. Your proposal should mention important past research in your field and explain how your work relates to it. This shows not just why your work matters but also that you know your stuff. Referencing landmark studies gives your proposal credibility and strengthens your argument.

Focusing too much on minor issues

Your research likely has many important reasons behind it, but you don't need to list them all in your proposal. Including too many details can distract from your main goal, making your proposal weaker. Focus on the big, key issues you'll address. Save the smaller details for your actual research paper. Keeping your proposal focused strengthens your argument and makes it more effective.

Failing to make a strong argument for your research

Overloading your proposal with too many minor issues can weaken it significantly, as this approach is more subjective than others. Essentially, a research proposal is a form of persuasive writing. While it's presented objectively, the aim is to convince the reader to support your work. This applies universally whether your audience is your supervisor, department head, admissions board, funding provider, or journal editor. Keeping your proposal focused enhances its persuasiveness.

Polish your writing into a stellar proposal

When you're seeking approval for research, especially when funding is involved, your proposal needs to be perfect. Spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or awkward wording can hurt your credibility. Even if you've edited carefully, it's essential to double-check. Your research deserves the strongest proposal possible to make the best impression and secure the support it needs.

If you're unsure how to write a research proposal, don't worry! There are plenty of resources and examples available to guide you through the process. We hope this blog helped you answer your question of “how to write a research proposal”. Practice is key when learning how to write a research proposal, so don't be afraid to ask for feedback and revise your proposal until it's clear and compelling.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How to write an abstract for a research proposal, what is the research proposal format , how to write a proposal for a research paper, how to write a dissertation proposal, how to write a phd proposal.

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Hardest Research Proposal Questions and Best Sample Answers

Featured Expert: Dr. Michela Insenga, PhD

Hardest Research Proposal Questions and Best Sample Answers

Practicing with sample research proposal questions and answers can have great benefits for any major research project such as a dissertation or thesis. This is often the final step before you finally get your doctorate degree. However, before all of that, you must first craft a research proposal. This is a detailed outline that will transform into the thesis that you will eventually have to defend in front of a panel of distinguished academics. It is always important to be aware of what thesis defense questions you will be asked when it is all said and done, but you may have to start justifying your research a little earlier on with the completion of a research proposal.

In this article, we include sample questions and answers you could be faced with when submitting your research proposal, some tips for preparing your responses, as well as the benefits of seeking professional help from a grad school advisor .

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 13 min read

What to expect for your research proposal.

Early on in your PhD process, you may have to submit a research proposal that details the scope of your research and what you plan to for an eventual thesis or dissertation project. You have already learned how to find a PhD topic , so now it is time to put your passion for your field into practice and start to manifest the ideas swimming in your head.

This document should include the specific topic you would like to research, what angle you will be taking for your research, as well as your justification for choosing this subject. Regardless of whether or not your goals are the same as when you wrote your research interest statement sample , you must still provide an update about what your project is going to examine.

Should you go to grad school? Watch this video:

The purpose of the research proposal is to convince your supervisor that you are on the right direction. You are essentially providing a roadmap for your supervisor through your motives in undertaking this project and how you plan to complete it. Your supervisor will have to evaluate whether or not your project is relevant to the degree you are completing and manageable within the time constraints or other limitations you have.

As a result, you may have to undergo a research proposal defense or your supervisor will ask guiding questions about the state of your project. While this is still very early in the process, it is a great way for getting to know how to prepare for a thesis defense , as the questions you will be have a similar intent. Receiving guidance on your research before spending a lot of time on it can be more beneficial to you as you complete coursework or any other responsibilities as a graduate student. Questions from your supervisor can make your think critically about the end result of your result, and will hopefully lead to a better result.

Be Very Familiar With Your Proposal

This sounds like an obvious tip, but PhD research proposals can be 1500-2000 words long and can be a lot of information to remember at once. Once it is complete, try and have as great of a grasp of the material as you can. Before going into any meeting where you will discuss your work, make sure to become reacquainted with the information you have found and the goals you are hoping to achieve. Re-read your proposal several times to both proofread it for typos or other errors, but also to become comfortable with its contents. You want to make sure that your answers line up with the document you are officially submitting as your proposal.

Ask for Advice

If you are having trouble creating your proposal, you can always consult thesis writing services to help you plan out and put your thoughts into words. Professionals can also help with your speaking ability when responding and help you strategize so that you deliver efficient responses that sum up your research faithfully. Either together with an advisor or on your own, you can predict the obvious questions that are coming and prepare yourself to answer them. If your supervisor will be overseeing your proposal, try to anticipate what concerns they will have. Come up with a list of questions yourself, so you can workshop how you answer them.

Use Strategies to Answer Questions

Just like preparing for graduate school interview questions , you can develop strategies for how to answer questions about your research proposal. Keep your answers direct. You can also pose questions about areas you are unsure about. Do not be afraid to not have all the answers. At this point of your research, you are not expected to know everything point. The purpose of your proposal is to see where you are at right now and what you need to adjust on to make the best final product possible. Your supervisor or other academics that will pose questions about your proposal are not out to get you. They have years of experiences with similar projects, and are likely are qualified to give helpful feedback on your work in progress.

1. What is your research project about?

This answer should be a short summary about your research project. This question may seem like this simplest of them all, but you need to have a solid direction on where you want your thesis to go in order for it be effective. It does not need to be as complete as if you were to be summarizing your final product, since your project is still in its development stages. For instance, a sociological study regarding gendered tendencies towards deviant behaviors on the internet might be formatted in this manner:

For this research project, I plan to examine the rise of online deviant sociological behaviour on social media platforms during recent global shutdowns such as the COVID-19 pandemic and how gender identity and sexual orientation amplify these concerns. These acts of deviance can include instances of catfishing, deception, pornography, obscenity, cyber bullying, flaming, among others. I will also relate these findings to psychological impacts of both the perpetrators and victims or other relevant criminal behaviors that do not take place online, pointing out the differences between common trends for men vs. women in these altercations.

2. Why did you select this particular topic?

This question is meant to assess your motivation for choosing the subject of your research proposal. It is possible that you have previously touched on this kind of question during your graduate school interview when answering “Why do you want to do a PhD?” . This answer is one that could get a little more into your personal inclination towards the research you pursue. Focus on your particular interests and shape it to the goals of the project. For example, if you conducted a study called, “Forgotten Minds: Book History and Women’s Lost Contributions in 18th and 19th-century England” then you can frame your answer in this way:

As a scholar of the marriage industrial complex that permeated British society in past centuries, I am interested in the ways that a patriarchal structure can silence the marginalized voices of others, as matrimony often did for women. This is all the more evident in the interdisciplinary field of book history, where women’s contributions to the publishing were often ignored, erased, or overshadowed by their husbands. I wanted to indicate any trends that can be discovered by examining the roles of women in 18th and 19th-century printing houses and potentially unearth the forgotten stories of women who worked in these instances.

3. Does your project have a working title?

Titles are very important for academic articles or formal dissertation projects. If you have already learned how to publish as a graduate student , you will know that the title is how other academics or students will find your work when searching through journals and databases. You need to make sure your title is accurate to the research provided. At this point, your title will likely not be final, but it always important to be thinking about.

Sample Answer: My tentative title is “Take a Chill Pill: Natural and Traditional Methods for College Student Anxiety Levels”. I chose this title because it represents both the holistic self-care methods such as meditation and exercise as well as prescription medication. It also points out the focus group immediately, since the study will examine current college students between the ages of 18-24 and indicate any patterns for how they manage stress among unprecedented times.

4. What scope do you think your project will have?

Your proposal will likely touch on several points related to your topic, but it is not really plausible to have a project that considers every single aspect imaginable. You may need to narrow this down as you further develop your research. Start thinking of the boundaries you may have to set as you progress through your work.

Sample Answer: This study will examine consumption trends related to the snack food industry. To start with, I have chosen over 25 products from different companies will be able to be listed and reviewed in the final thesis submission.

5. What makes your project original?

Being a publishing academic is all about filling the gaps in scholarship. Make sure to point out what makes your project stand out from others in the field.

Sample Answer: The project focuses on how remote working and telemedicine shifts the delivery of family medicine procedures in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It does engage with similar studies on the topic of telemedicine, but will add a new perspective by discussing family doctors practicing in the greater Montreal area, specifically, which is a subset I have not yet found within existing scholarship.

6. How is your research in conversation with existing scholarship?

While your research must add something to the field, it also should be in a dialogue with other published works. Explain your process surrounding the other studies you have used to guide your own thesis.

Sample Answer: As my project is related to how autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis present themselves in young adults, I have included fundamental studies on the topic from Dr. Arthur Golden and Dr. Melina Rizzo, as well as other more current examples of scholarship. My study will utilize their concepts in relation to a focus group that is below the age of 30.

7. What kind of research methodology will you be using?

How you will be accessing this research is just as important as the research itself. Try to have a clear path about the measures you will take to complete your study.

Sample Answer: I aim to use detailed and meticulously written surveys about women’s birth experiences at hospitals or affiliated birthing centers. These results will act as the main foundation for my study on maternity health care and treatment.

8. Have you found there to be any interesting developments so far?

Was there any part of the part of the process that you did not expect? For this response, detail any new directions your research has taken as of writing your proposal.

Sample Answer: While looking for evidence that suggests that gender socialization of children affects their behaviour, I was surprised to find out that there is a discrepancy between the emotional responses in animated characters based on gender. Female or feminine-presenting characters are shown smiling on screen much more than their male counterparts, and the masculine-presenting characters were generally more likely to be shown as upset or even violent. That is a development in my research that I did not initially think of or foresee.

9. What do you think your biggest limitations for this research will be?

Look into the work you will have to do for your eventual full-length research project. What do you see being the most difficult part?

Sample Answer: I am looking into the nutritional benefits of drug store chewable gummy multivitamins. However, based on an individual’s prior health conditions or genetic makeup, the results may vary or be distorted. I am presuming that this will be a major limitation as I write my thesis.

10. What will be the dependent and independent variables of this project?

When researching, there are different variables that can potentially affect your results. An independent variable is not affected by other variables in your study, while dependent variables also change if other variables do.

Sample Answer: My study will investigate the impact of guidance counselling for junior and senior high school students. The independent variable is the type of help they require, such as college applications, social development skills, or academic performance. The dependent variable would be the actual outcomes of said counselling.

11. What is your provisional research timeline?

Even if it is not 100% stuck to, try to have a detailed timeline in mind about when research will be completed and how you will fulfill all of your obligations prior to the respective deadlines.

Sample Answer: The provisional research timeline for my proposal is designed to ensure systematic progress and timely completion of all research objectives. My timeline is divided into five phases:

Preparation Phase (4 weeks): In this initial stage, I will conduct a thorough literature review to familiarize myself with existing research and identify potential gaps. Simultaneously, I will finalize the research questions and establish the overall framework for my study.

Data Collection and Analysis (8 weeks): During this phase, I will gather primary data through surveys and interviews, ensuring data collection aligns with ethical guidelines. Once collected, I will proceed with data analysis, utilizing appropriate statistical methods to extract meaningful insights.

Literature Integration (4 weeks): Building upon the analyzed data, I will integrate my findings with existing literature to provide a comprehensive context for my research.

Drafting and Revision (6 weeks): I will dedicate this phase to writing the research proposal. The initial draft will be critically reviewed and refined through multiple iterations to enhance clarity and coherence.

Finalization and Submission (1 week): In the final phase, I will incorporate feedback from peers and advisors and polish the research paper to its final form. The completed research paper will be submitted by the designated deadline.

This provisional timeline, spanning 23 weeks, allows for flexibility and contingency plans to accommodate unforeseen challenges. Regular progress assessments and adjustments will be made to ensure timely completion and adherence to all obligations.

12. Who are the demographics who will be most interested in your research?

An important aspect of your research to think about will be who will be the most interested in reading it, as well as who it impacts the most.

Sample Answer: The demographics most interested in my research are likely to be professionals and policymakers within the healthcare industry. Given the focus of my research on implementing technology-driven solutions to enhance patient care and improve healthcare outcomes, healthcare practitioners, administrators, and researchers would find the findings particularly relevant.

Additionally, technology enthusiasts, innovators, and entrepreneurs interested in the intersection of healthcare and technology are also expected to show interest in the research. This group may be keen to explore potential commercial applications of the proposed solutions or seek opportunities for collaboration.

Moreover, the research would significantly impact patients and healthcare consumers. As technology increasingly plays a vital role in healthcare delivery, patients would be interested in understanding how these advancements can positively influence their healthcare experiences and overall well-being.

To ensure the research's reach and impact, I will disseminate the findings through academic publications, conferences, and workshops. Additionally, I will aim to engage with relevant professional organizations, healthcare institutions, and technology forums to stimulate interest and foster practical applications of the research outcomes.

By targeting these demographics, the research can make a meaningful contribution to the field of healthcare technology and help drive advancements that benefit both healthcare providers and patients alike.

13. What do you hope to be the significance of your research?

This is the “So what?” of your research. Will your research have lasting impacts? Evaluate which current issues your research could resolve.

Sample Answer:

The significance of my research lies in its potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery through technology-driven solutions. By addressing current issues such as inefficiencies in healthcare systems, lack of patient engagement, and suboptimal outcomes, my research aims to foster lasting impacts. Implementing technology to improve patient care, streamline processes, and enhance healthcare accessibility could lead to better health outcomes, reduced costs, and an overall improvement in the quality of healthcare services.

14. Are there any ethical issues or debates surrounding your research project?

Some projects are directly tied to ethics and moral issues that are currently being debated. It would be important to mention any ties to these issues and how your research is part of a larger conversation.

Sample Answer: While my research primarily focuses on technology-driven solutions to enhance healthcare, there are potential ethical considerations surrounding data privacy and security. As the research involves collecting and analyzing patient data, ensuring the confidentiality and informed consent of participants is paramount. Additionally, discussions about the responsible use of artificial intelligence in healthcare and potential biases in algorithms are relevant to the larger conversation on the ethical implications of technology in healthcare. Addressing these issues will be crucial to maintaining the integrity and societal benefit of the research.

15. Do you have any personal predictions for the outcome of your research?

If you haven’t yet conducted surveys or a thorough literature review, relay what you think will happen and any other concerns to your supervisor.

Sample Answer: As of now, without conducting surveys or an extensive literature review, I anticipate that the research will demonstrate the potential of technology in positively impacting healthcare outcomes and patient experiences. However, I am also aware that challenges related to data security, technology adoption, and ethical considerations may arise during the research. I will keep my supervisor informed about any unexpected findings and concerns throughout the study to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the research outcomes.

Now that you have seen some sample answers, here are some additional questions you can take on:

  • What sample groups are you using and why?
  • What secondary sources do you plan to use?
  • What do you believe is the strongest point in your research?
  • Are there any biases that could exist in your research or your secondary sources?
  • What are some ways your findings will be put into practice?
  • What was the approach you took when starting your project?
  • What phenomenon are you trying to understand with this research?
  • How has your research project changed from when you started this degree?
  • Do you see any foreseeable weaknesses or blind spots in your study?
  • What measurement instrument did you use for this research?
  • What theoretical framework is your research based on?
  • Is the literature you chose up to date?
  • What pertinent information have you found so far?
  • Does your research have any use for policy makers?
  • What do you plan to do with this research project once you have graduated?

When you are wondering, “should you pursue a master’s or a PhD?” , you truly need to consider the importance of research within the discipline you choose. Part of being an academic is the ability to contribute to the field and, by extension, society as a whole. The research proposal and the subsequent dissertation may be the last step to complete your degree, but it is also can be the first real step of your professional career.

Any meeting with your supervisor or instant where you have to defend your work is simply part of the process of being a working academic. This can have lasting implications for the future of your career, as knowing how to conduct and present research effectively is key to learning how to find a job in academia . That being said, the first step is putting yourself in the best position to succeed. Using PhD consultants can make all the difference for your project. If you are currently applying to graduate school, these trained experts can help you get into the school of your dreams or assist with finding programs that suit your skillset. They can also provide pointers on your research, as many of them have been in your shoes before.

A research proposal is a concise and structured document that outlines the key objectives, methodology, and significance of a proposed research project, aiming to convince others about the value and feasibility of the study.

A typical research proposal for a doctoral thesis is usually between 10 to 20 pages, depending on the specific requirements of the academic institution and the complexity of the research project.

To find the right research topic for a doctoral thesis, consider your interests, expertise, and the significance of the topic in your field. Engage with relevant literature, consult with advisors and experts, and identify gaps or unresolved issues to narrow down your focus.

Yes, you can and you should include your research on your grad school CV . 

Most graduate programs will ask you to defend your research proposal. However, if it’s a smaller project, a review of the proposal may be sufficient. 

To prepare for a research proposal or thesis defense, thoroughly review your research work, anticipate potential questions, and practice presenting your findings in a clear and concise manner to effectively communicate your research objectives, methodology, and results.

Some mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal include: lack of clarity in research objectives, insufficient literature review, neglecting to address potential limitations, and failing to align the proposal with the funding agency's guidelines or the university's requirements.

Yes, you can always reach out to thesis writing services for some guidance. 

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Naval Postgraduate School

Naval Research Program

Research proposal guide - naval research program, research proposal guide.

Once an Initial Research Estimate Form (IREF)  is validated and selected for funding, the next step is to complete a Research Proposal. Proposals must be completed and approved before funding can be authorized and released.

Faculty that have an IREF validated and selected for funding are required to complete the following steps before funding will be authorized and established. More details for each step are provided below; this list can be used as a checklist if desired.

Please notify NRP at [email protected]  if you have any reservations about accepting your funded project (e.g. impending retirement, emergent obligations, etc.).

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Eligibility, annual pi training, acknowledgment of terms.

  • Technical Proposal/Narrative

Proposal tab

Nps personnel tab, proposal questions tab, proposal data tab, abstracts and attachments tab, proposal budget tab, review process, proposal amendments, troubleshooting.

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Quick links, principal investigators.

The Principal Investigator (PI) is the researcher who has primary responsibility for the design, execution, and management of a sponsored research project and is named on the proposal to the sponsoring agency. The PI has the primary responsibility for the fulfillment of the Statement of Work. Even when collaborating with one or more Co-PIs, the PI has the ultimate responsibility for the project and remains the sole individual responsible for managing expenditures in support of the project. 

Only eligible Naval Postgraduate School faculty participating in the mission of NPS may submit proposals and act as a PI/PD/Co-I/Co-PD for sponsored projects. Individuals in a faculty or staff category other than those listed in the SPPGM-22 require a waiver to be eligible. Sponsored Program Policy/Guidance Memo 22 (SPPGM-22): Who can be a PI/PD/Co-I/Co-PD?  (PDF, 4 January 2023) PI/PD/Co-I/Co-PD Justification Memorandum (Waiver Form)  (PDF)

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Training is required for anyone who functions as a PI/PD or has direct access to funds on sponsored projects. Annual PI Training is completed within Sakai, and includes four modules:

  • Accountability/Fiscal Law: 13/14 required to pass
  • Protection of Human Subjects: 7/8 required to pass
  • OPSEC for the PI/PD: pass/fail
  • Stewardship: 18/20 required to pass

PIs must pass all modules for training to be complete. Please visit Sponsored Programs Related Annual Online Trainings  to begin.

Please send a screenshot or export of your passing scores to NRP upon successful completion of your Annual PI Training.

All PIs and Co-PIs must digitally sign the Acknowledgment of Terms form . This form must then be uploaded as an attachment to your Research Proposal.

To digitally sign the form, you may need to download and save it to your computer, and open in Adobe Reader. Opening it in your web browser doesn't reliably activate the signature fields.

When uploading as an attachment, go to the Abstracts and Attachments tab in Coeus, and upload the form using the "Supplementary Documentation" category.

Please do not email any documents directly to NRP unless requested to do so.

PDF, 142KB. Last updated November 2023

All PIs must complete a Technical Proposal/Narrative, using the official NRP template.  These documents must be submitted as attachments to your Research Proposal.

  • Read all template guidance prior to starting your proposal
  • Complete all required template elements
  • Supporting TASKS section must include direct correlation/justification for all budget expenses
  • Coeus is approved for CUI, but please mark all documents accordingly if applicable
  • Remove the first page containing template guidance before submitting to Coeus

Topic Advocate signatures are no longer required. Research Proposals will be routed through the chain for approval by NPS personnel and teams using Coeus. For efficiency purposes and to prevent delays, please  do not bypass  this process.

Word, 57KB. Last updated October 2023

Coeus Proposal Package

Koali Coeus is the system NRP uses to manage and review Research Proposals. To submit a Research Proposal, you will use a Proposal Development Document (PDD).

NRP creates empty PDD shells within Coeus, to pre-populate required information and simplify setup. Each PI will receive a Coeus-generated, automated email prompting you to begin your proposal.

Please email the NRP office at [email protected] with any questions, or if you don't receive your Coeus access email.

  • Period of performance and milestone dates, in all proposal documents, must match.
  • Proposals are only accepted through Coeus. Incomplete proposal packages will be rejected.
  • Spend plans must be realistic as you will be required to execute as scheduled (burn rate).
  • Expenses must include direct correlation/justification to the TASKS in your technical proposal.
  • If someone is assisting you in preparing your proposal package, give them a link to this page.

This tab will be completed by NRP. Please do not make any changes to the fields present on this tab.

At minimum, you must include the PI and any Co-PIs. You can be a PI on no more than two concurrent NRP projects across all Cycle Years, and no more than one NRP project per Cycle Year.

  • Enter the last name, email address, etc. of the person you wish to add. You only need to fill out one field, and the search is not case-sensitive. Click search .
  • Click return value  on the far left of the row containing the correct personnel record.
  • The top section of the page will now have the person's name, as well as a  Proposal Role  section. Select the appropriate role, then click  add person  below that.

If additional staff/faculty are expected to participate but have yet to be identified, input their positions in your project using To be named  instead of Employee Search .

exclamation point inside a red circle

Please answer all Proposal Questions, including any sub-questions that may appear. If you have any questions about this tab, please contact NRP .

Please fill out all Proposal Data. If you have any questions about this tab, please contact NRP .

To select multiple items in a "select all that apply" list, use  Ctrl  on Windows, or  Cmd  on Mac.

Upload your required attachments including your  Acknowledgment of Terms form  and your Technical Proposal/Narrative  under the categories below:

  • Acknowledgment of Terms:  "Supplementary Documentation"
  • Technical Proposal/Narrative:  "Technical Proposal/Narrative"
  • Budget Justification:  "Budget Justification"
  • Equipment Justification:  "Equipment"
  • You must upload a waiver for  each  person requiring one

Copy-paste the abstract from your Technical Proposal/Narrative into the  Publicly Releasable Abstract  section, under Enter Abstract . Make sure to click  add  or it will not save to your PDD correctly.

When entering keywords, please enter one keyword per line,  not  a comma-separated list. Keywords are used by other integrated systems and comma-separating them can cause errors in the data integrations.

The quarterly spend plan you enter into Coeus generates your  required  burn rate schedule. This data is reported to the Budget Submission Office (BSO) and the burn rate must be executed as input into Coeus. PIs are expected to plan for salary adjustments within their budget. The authorized project amount is not increased due to promotions or Cost of Living Allowance increases.

Ensure your quarterly spend plan is realistic by accounting for:

  • Cost-of-living adjustments
  • Raises and promotions
  • Reasonable flexibility

Official research proposal budgets must be submitted using the Coeus budget proposal tool. The  FY24 NRP Budget Spreadsheet  is used for budget/spend plan updates during the PoP. The spreadsheet can be used for general offline proposal budget planning purposes but it is highly recommended that you use the  Coeus training instance  to draft your proposal budget.

Your proposal budget is an embedded document within your PDD, and has tabs of its own. NRP has created a quarterly budget shell for you to fill out; open this budget by using the  open  button on the far right of the page.

Using your IREF budget allocations, enter quarterly expenses in the  NPS Labor  and Other Direct Costs  (Non-Labor) tabs. Your PDD's budget must be equal to or less than the budget proposed in your IREF.

If financial expenditure questions arise during budget development or execution, PIs should consult with the NRP SPFA .

How can the money be spent?

  • NRP funds are RDT&E BA 6.6 and are appropriated solely for specific selected NRP projects. There must be a direct relationship between funds spent and the selected NRP research project.
  • This money cannot be used for academic/curriculum support.
  • This money cannot be used for office supplies, printers or cell phones.
  • This money cannot be used to hire administrative personnel.

Financial Terms

  • Indirect Costs:  The NRP uses NR&DE funds, and indirect cost are not collected. The indirect rate is 0%.
  • Fringe  (aka Acceleration or Fully Burdened Rate): Fringe is always included in the cost of payroll regardless of how your payroll is being charged.  Fringe addresses the actual cost of benefits paid by the government for each employee (TSP, FERS, Medicare, FEGLI, TSP Matching, Annual Leave, Sick Leave, Vacation).  NPS recommends using 52.5% for projection purposes.
  • Overhead:  The NRP takes a small percentage off the top of the annual budget to run the program. Therefore, no overhead cost needs to be factored into each individual project budget.

Spend Plan Justification

The Description & Purpose field(s) in Coeus for all expenses (Other Direct Costs/Non-Labor) must include a direct correlation/justification to the TASKS in your Technical Proposal/Narrative. Do not use blanket terms.

If your budget includes costs that exceed the NRP allowances, attach a Budget Justification document. Alternatively, you can include line-item Budget Justification notes in your PDD's budget.

  • Ensure that quarters with proposed travel include appropriate corresponding labor hours
  • People who are not listed in the specific NRP project are not allowed to utilize these funds. Travel percentage and total cap may change in FY25.
  • Unique business such as project kick-off meetings, mid-year progress review meetings, final projects delivery meetings, data collection, and/or one conference attendance that are directly tied to the project can be conducted via travel, but all “regular business” should be conducted on Teams. Virtual/online conferences are preferred and encouraged. Labor must be charged to the project at the same time you are on travel.
  • Ensure travel and labor expenses align with research completion timelines, to include any travel for the purpose of final debriefing/delivering the final product(s)
  • Students:  Student participation is allowed; however, travel requests must state how the travel applies to the associated NRP research.
  • DTS form justification box must include: NRP project number, PI Name, detailed purpose of the travel i.e., how the travel is directly related to the NRP project, travel is/is not included in the original proposal.
  • All travelers are required to submit a  Travel Report  after each trip.
  • Academic purposes
  • Thesis development
  • Student graduations
  • Other research projects
  • List all known project personnel. List additional planned but unidentified individuals under "To be named." Notify the NRP SPFA  of project personnel changes immediately to avoid a payroll approval delay.
  • Labor is charged using actual benefits and varies per individual. Rates are updated/calculated in Coeus routinely. Consult your SPFA for individual rates. NRP is exempt from other Indirect Costs.
  • NRP funds are not appropriate for employee cash awards. All awards using NRP funds will be reversed upon detection.
  • The fully burdened amount is listed in Coeus. PIs are expected to plan for salary adjustments within their budget. The authorized project amount is not increased due to promotions or Cost of Living Allowance increases .

External Support

If you are intending/planning to outsource labor/skills that cannot be performed by NPS personnel you must obtain approval from your department chair.

NRP funds cannot be used to hire administrative personnel.


All purchases must align with the tasks and deliverables cited in your proposal and require a detailed justification to be submitted in ERP. As per the Annual PI Training, purchasing for "the greater good" is not allowed.

Provide an explanation, in plain language, detailing how each purchase contributes to the tasks and deliverables of the project. Blanket terms such as "Mission Essential / Critical" are not a valid justification.

Total purchasing exceeding 25% of your project's total budget will require additional justification.

  • Orders should be submitted early in order to contribute to the project deliverable(s), and must be acquired within the project's Period of Performance.
  • Acquisitions for computers, equipment, contracts, and MIPRS are  only  approved for the benefit of the selected NRP project. Therefore, each item must be ordered soon enough that it arrives early enough to contribute to the project deliverables.
  • PIs may be allowed to purchase equipment with justification (e.g., computers) once every three years, however purchasing peripheral equipment that is considered office equipment is not allowed.
  • All equipment must be shipped directly to the warehouse and registered in the NPS property accounting system prior to receipt under the PI’s name. The PI is accountable to produce records during an audit.
  • Cell phones & cell phone services
  • Printers, ink, and toner
  • Office supplies
  • Publications (Please contact NRP for NRP-related publication expenses)
  • Items considered to be for general purposes
  • Checklist of OSHE Related Hazards to Consider
  • Include labor, time, and costs for safety controls.
  • Include safety and environmental planning and training hours.
  • Include funds for safety assessments if needed, protective equipment and physical controls.
  • Critical to plan ahead for off-campus activities, UUVs, lithium batteries, RF emitter, hazmat, lasers, etc.

Review  Safety Information Needed from PIs for Project Descriptions

For safety questions or concerns email  [email protected]  or visit the  Safety Review and Planning page on the  Safety website.

Finalizing your budget

Once your budget is complete, save it with the button at the bottom, and use the blue  Return to Proposal  button at the top right. Check the  Final  box for your budget in the  Proposal Budget  tab.

  • Coeus User Guide
  • Contact NRP
  • Contact Coeus Ombudsman
  • Contact NRP SPFA for financial expenditure questions
  • Budget Spreadsheet

Submit Your Proposal

Once your PDD is completed, run Data Validation .

  • Go to the Proposal Actions tab
  • On the  Data Validation  section, click the  show  button to expand it
  • Click  turn on validation
  • Go through each of the  Validation Errors  and  Warnings , and fix them
  • Reach out to NRP at  [email protected]  if you need any help

Once your PDD passes validation, please use the  Submit  button at the bottom of the  Proposal Actions  tab to submit it for approval. NRP will receive an automated email from Coeus letting us know when your PDD is ready to review.

See the Troubleshooting guide below for help resolving errors. NRP is also happy to assist; contact us at [email protected] .

Once your PDD is successfully submitted, it goes through several stages of review:

  • Your department chair reviews and approves your PDD. If you have Co-PIs listed, their department chairs must review and approve your PDD as well.
  • NRP reviews your PDD for completeness, accuracy, and adherence to requirements and guidance.
  • NRP's Financial Manager reviews your budget and spending allocations.
  • NRP's Program Manager reviews and approves your PDD.
  • The Vice Provost for Research and Innovation reviews and approves your PDD.

Once the VPR has approved your PDD, NRP double-checks a few more requirements:

  • Completion of your annual PI training
  • Completion and submission of all previous Cycle Years' required research deliverables
  • Successful approval from the  Human Research Protection Program Office & Institutional Review Board (IRB) , if required

Once these are complete, NRP then issues funding for you to begin your research.

To check your proposal's current status in the review process:

  • Log in to Coeus
  • In the  Proposals  section of the Coeus homepage, click "Search Proposals"
  • In the  Document ID  field, enter the five-digit Document ID of your proposal. If you don't know the Document ID, please reach out to NRP and we can provide that to you.
  • Click the  Search  button
  • Click "view" on the left of the row your proposal shows up in, in the search results
  • Go to the  Proposal Actions  tab
  • Open the  Route Log  section by clicking the "show" button on it
  • In Action List to Complete:  Approval is required
  • In Action List to FYI:  Approval is not required; the person was notified for their situational awareness
  • If multiple people are listed within the same approval line, only one of them is required to approve

To make amendments to an approved and finalized PDD, email the Coeus Ombudsman  with your amendment request.

The types of changes that require an amendment through Coeus are:

  • Changes to the Period of Performance
  • Budget increases
  • Changes to the PI or Co-PI(s)
  • Topic Advocate changes
  • Statement of Work changes

Here are solutions to common problems encountered through the Research Proposal process.

If you're still having trouble, please reach out to NRP . We're happy to help!

PDDs are "checked out" when someone opens them to edit them, and locked until the person editing clicks the  close  button to "check in" the proposal.  Closing the browser tab will not check in the PDD.

If your proposal was locked by someone else, Coeus will display their name at the top of the PDD. Simply email them and request that they open the proposal and close it using the  close  button at the bottom of the page rather than just closing the browser tab.

If you're not able to get a hold of the person your PDD is checked out to, email the Coeus Ombudsman to request an administrator to unlock your PDD.

Reach out to NRP and let us know; we can add them as an authorized user to your PDD.

Opening the PDF in your browser doesn't always activate the signature fields. Download it to your computer and open it in Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat. The fields should show up.

Grad Coach

What (Exactly) Is A Research Proposal?

A simple explainer with examples + free template.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020 (Updated April 2023)

Whether you’re nearing the end of your degree and your dissertation is on the horizon, or you’re planning to apply for a PhD program, chances are you’ll need to craft a convincing research proposal . If you’re on this page, you’re probably unsure exactly what the research proposal is all about. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Overview: Research Proposal Basics

  • What a research proposal is
  • What a research proposal needs to cover
  • How to structure your research proposal
  • Example /sample proposals
  • Proposal writing FAQs
  • Key takeaways & additional resources

What is a research proposal?

Simply put, a research proposal is a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (your research topic), why it’s worth researching (your justification), and how  you plan to investigate it (your methodology). 

The purpose of the research proposal (its job, so to speak) is to convince  your research supervisor, committee or university that your research is  suitable  (for the requirements of the degree program) and  manageable  (given the time and resource constraints you will face). 

The most important word here is “ convince ” – in other words, your research proposal needs to  sell  your research idea (to whoever is going to approve it). If it doesn’t convince them (of its suitability and manageability), you’ll need to revise and resubmit . This will cost you valuable time, which will either delay the start of your research or eat into its time allowance (which is bad news). 

A research proposal is a  formal document that explains what you plan to research , why it's worth researching and how you'll do it.

What goes into a research proposal?

A good dissertation or thesis proposal needs to cover the “ what “, “ why ” and” how ” of the proposed study. Let’s look at each of these attributes in a little more detail:

Your proposal needs to clearly articulate your research topic . This needs to be specific and unambiguous . Your research topic should make it clear exactly what you plan to research and in what context. Here’s an example of a well-articulated research topic:

An investigation into the factors which impact female Generation Y consumer’s likelihood to promote a specific makeup brand to their peers: a British context

As you can see, this topic is extremely clear. From this one line we can see exactly:

  • What’s being investigated – factors that make people promote or advocate for a brand of a specific makeup brand
  • Who it involves – female Gen-Y consumers
  • In what context – the United Kingdom

So, make sure that your research proposal provides a detailed explanation of your research topic . If possible, also briefly outline your research aims and objectives , and perhaps even your research questions (although in some cases you’ll only develop these at a later stage). Needless to say, don’t start writing your proposal until you have a clear topic in mind , or you’ll end up waffling and your research proposal will suffer as a result of this.

Need a helping hand?

research question research proposal

As we touched on earlier, it’s not good enough to simply propose a research topic – you need to justify why your topic is original . In other words, what makes it  unique ? What gap in the current literature does it fill? If it’s simply a rehash of the existing research, it’s probably not going to get approval – it needs to be fresh.

But,  originality  alone is not enough. Once you’ve ticked that box, you also need to justify why your proposed topic is  important . In other words, what value will it add to the world if you achieve your research aims?

As an example, let’s look at the sample research topic we mentioned earlier (factors impacting brand advocacy). In this case, if the research could uncover relevant factors, these findings would be very useful to marketers in the cosmetics industry, and would, therefore, have commercial value . That is a clear justification for the research.

So, when you’re crafting your research proposal, remember that it’s not enough for a topic to simply be unique. It needs to be useful and value-creating – and you need to convey that value in your proposal. If you’re struggling to find a research topic that makes the cut, watch  our video covering how to find a research topic .

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

It’s all good and well to have a great topic that’s original and valuable, but you’re not going to convince anyone to approve it without discussing the practicalities – in other words:

  • How will you actually undertake your research (i.e., your methodology)?
  • Is your research methodology appropriate given your research aims?
  • Is your approach manageable given your constraints (time, money, etc.)?

While it’s generally not expected that you’ll have a fully fleshed-out methodology at the proposal stage, you’ll likely still need to provide a high-level overview of your research methodology . Here are some important questions you’ll need to address in your research proposal:

  • Will you take a qualitative , quantitative or mixed -method approach?
  • What sampling strategy will you adopt?
  • How will you collect your data (e.g., interviews, surveys, etc)?
  • How will you analyse your data (e.g., descriptive and inferential statistics , content analysis, discourse analysis, etc, .)?
  • What potential limitations will your methodology carry?

So, be sure to give some thought to the practicalities of your research and have at least a basic methodological plan before you start writing up your proposal. If this all sounds rather intimidating, the video below provides a good introduction to research methodology and the key choices you’ll need to make.

How To Structure A Research Proposal

Now that we’ve covered the key points that need to be addressed in a proposal, you may be wondering, “ But how is a research proposal structured? “.

While the exact structure and format required for a research proposal differs from university to university, there are four “essential ingredients” that commonly make up the structure of a research proposal:

  • A rich introduction and background to the proposed research
  • An initial literature review covering the existing research
  • An overview of the proposed research methodology
  • A discussion regarding the practicalities (project plans, timelines, etc.)

In the video below, we unpack each of these four sections, step by step.

Research Proposal Examples/Samples

In the video below, we provide a detailed walkthrough of two successful research proposals (Master’s and PhD-level), as well as our popular free proposal template.

Proposal Writing FAQs

How long should a research proposal be.

This varies tremendously, depending on the university, the field of study (e.g., social sciences vs natural sciences), and the level of the degree (e.g. undergraduate, Masters or PhD) – so it’s always best to check with your university what their specific requirements are before you start planning your proposal.

As a rough guide, a formal research proposal at Masters-level often ranges between 2000-3000 words, while a PhD-level proposal can be far more detailed, ranging from 5000-8000 words. In some cases, a rough outline of the topic is all that’s needed, while in other cases, universities expect a very detailed proposal that essentially forms the first three chapters of the dissertation or thesis.

The takeaway – be sure to check with your institution before you start writing.

How do I choose a topic for my research proposal?

Finding a good research topic is a process that involves multiple steps. We cover the topic ideation process in this video post.

How do I write a literature review for my proposal?

While you typically won’t need a comprehensive literature review at the proposal stage, you still need to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the key literature and are able to synthesise it. We explain the literature review process here.

How do I create a timeline and budget for my proposal?

We explain how to craft a project plan/timeline and budget in Research Proposal Bootcamp .

Which referencing format should I use in my research proposal?

The expectations and requirements regarding formatting and referencing vary from institution to institution. Therefore, you’ll need to check this information with your university.

What common proposal writing mistakes do I need to look out for?

We’ve create a video post about some of the most common mistakes students make when writing a proposal – you can access that here . If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary:

  • The research topic is too broad (or just poorly articulated).
  • The research aims, objectives and questions don’t align.
  • The research topic is not well justified.
  • The study has a weak theoretical foundation.
  • The research design is not well articulated well enough.
  • Poor writing and sloppy presentation.
  • Poor project planning and risk management.
  • Not following the university’s specific criteria.

Key Takeaways & Additional Resources

As you write up your research proposal, remember the all-important core purpose:  to convince . Your research proposal needs to sell your study in terms of suitability and viability. So, focus on crafting a convincing narrative to ensure a strong proposal.

At the same time, pay close attention to your university’s requirements. While we’ve covered the essentials here, every institution has its own set of expectations and it’s essential that you follow these to maximise your chances of approval.

By the way, we’ve got plenty more resources to help you fast-track your research proposal. Here are some of our most popular resources to get you started:

  • Proposal Writing 101 : A Introductory Webinar
  • Research Proposal Bootcamp : The Ultimate Online Course
  • Template : A basic template to help you craft your proposal

If you’re looking for 1-on-1 support with your research proposal, be sure to check out our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through the proposal development process (and the entire research journey), step by step.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling short course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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Myrna Pereira

I truly enjoyed this video, as it was eye-opening to what I have to do in the preparation of preparing a Research proposal.

I would be interested in getting some coaching.


I real appreciate on your elaboration on how to develop research proposal,the video explains each steps clearly.

masebo joseph

Thank you for the video. It really assisted me and my niece. I am a PhD candidate and she is an undergraduate student. It is at times, very difficult to guide a family member but with this video, my job is done.

In view of the above, I welcome more coaching.

Zakia Ghafoor

Wonderful guidelines, thanks

Annie Malupande

This is very helpful. Would love to continue even as I prepare for starting my masters next year.


Thanks for the work done, the text was helpful to me

Ahsanullah Mangal

Bundle of thanks to you for the research proposal guide it was really good and useful if it is possible please send me the sample of research proposal

Derek Jansen

You’re most welcome. We don’t have any research proposals that we can share (the students own the intellectual property), but you might find our research proposal template useful: https://gradcoach.com/research-proposal-template/

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

Thanks alot. It was an eye opener that came timely enough before my imminent proposal defense. Thanks, again


thank you very much your lesson is very interested may God be with you


I am an undergraduate student (First Degree) preparing to write my project,this video and explanation had shed more light to me thanks for your efforts keep it up.

Synthia Atieno

Very useful. I am grateful.

belina nambeya

this is a very a good guidance on research proposal, for sure i have learnt something

Wonderful guidelines for writing a research proposal, I am a student of m.phil( education), this guideline is suitable for me. Thanks

You’re welcome 🙂


Thank you, this was so helpful.

Amitash Degan

A really great and insightful video. It opened my eyes as to how to write a research paper. I would like to receive more guidance for writing my research paper from your esteemed faculty.

Glaudia Njuguna

Thank you, great insights

Thank you, great insights, thank you so much, feeling edified


Wow thank you, great insights, thanks a lot

Roseline Soetan

Thank you. This is a great insight. I am a student preparing for a PhD program. I am requested to write my Research Proposal as part of what I am required to submit before my unconditional admission. I am grateful having listened to this video which will go a long way in helping me to actually choose a topic of interest and not just any topic as well as to narrow down the topic and be specific about it. I indeed need more of this especially as am trying to choose a topic suitable for a DBA am about embarking on. Thank you once more. The video is indeed helpful.


Have learnt a lot just at the right time. Thank you so much.

laramato ikayo

thank you very much ,because have learn a lot things concerning research proposal and be blessed u for your time that you providing to help us

Cheruiyot M Kipyegon

Hi. For my MSc medical education research, please evaluate this topic for me: Training Needs Assessment of Faculty in Medical Training Institutions in Kericho and Bomet Counties


I have really learnt a lot based on research proposal and it’s formulation

Arega Berlie

Thank you. I learn much from the proposal since it is applied


Your effort is much appreciated – you have good articulation.

You have good articulation.

Douglas Eliaba

I do applaud your simplified method of explaining the subject matter, which indeed has broaden my understanding of the subject matter. Definitely this would enable me writing a sellable research proposal.


This really helping


Great! I liked your tutoring on how to find a research topic and how to write a research proposal. Precise and concise. Thank you very much. Will certainly share this with my students. Research made simple indeed.

Alice Kuyayama

Thank you very much. I an now assist my students effectively.

Thank you very much. I can now assist my students effectively.

Abdurahman Bayoh

I need any research proposal


Thank you for these videos. I will need chapter by chapter assistance in writing my MSc dissertation


Very helpfull

faith wugah

the videos are very good and straight forward


thanks so much for this wonderful presentations, i really enjoyed it to the fullest wish to learn more from you

Bernie E. Balmeo

Thank you very much. I learned a lot from your lecture.

Ishmael kwame Appiah

I really enjoy the in-depth knowledge on research proposal you have given. me. You have indeed broaden my understanding and skills. Thank you

David Mweemba

interesting session this has equipped me with knowledge as i head for exams in an hour’s time, am sure i get A++

Andrea Eccleston

This article was most informative and easy to understand. I now have a good idea of how to write my research proposal.

Thank you very much.

Georgina Ngufan

Wow, this literature is very resourceful and interesting to read. I enjoyed it and I intend reading it every now then.


Thank you for the clarity

Mondika Solomon

Thank you. Very helpful.


Thank you very much for this essential piece. I need 1o1 coaching, unfortunately, your service is not available in my country. Anyways, a very important eye-opener. I really enjoyed it. A thumb up to Gradcoach

Md Moneruszzaman Kayes

What is JAM? Please explain.


Thank you so much for these videos. They are extremely helpful! God bless!

azeem kakar

very very wonderful…

Koang Kuany Bol Nyot

thank you for the video but i need a written example

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PHMSA Safety Research Announcement #693JK324RA0001


Through this Research Announcement (RA), the Office of Pipeline Safety, at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a U.S. Department of Transportation agency, solicits applications for research projects awarded and funded as Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs).

Please carefully review all included attachments to this RA.

Fourteen specific research topics addressing key PHMSA priorities for safety were derived from the following two research forums:

  • The 2023 Pipeline Research & Development (R&D) Forum ( https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/Meetings/MtgHome.mtg?mtg=166 )
  • The 2022 Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) R&D Public Meeting and Forum ( https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/meetings/MtgHome.mtg?mtg=162 )

With proposal development, it is highly recommended to review the available materials from these events as they pertain to the technical needs of each topic. It is also recommended to partner with as many entities necessary to support successful proposal objective(s) attainment.

Solicited research topics can be found in (RA #693JK324RA0001 Attachment #7 Research Topics).

  • Register for PHMSA Safety Research Announcement #693JK324RA0001

Announcement Details

Proposals must be uploaded by 5:00 p.m. est, friday, june 14, 2024..

Any questions are to be directed to the PHMSA Acquisition Services Division as listed in this solicitation. Any questions on solicitation content, issues, or procedures must be submitted via email to Stephen Jones at Stephen.Jones @ dot.gov no later than 5:00 PM EST, Wednesday May 15, 2023. The research announcement number (693JK324RA0001) must be included in the subject line. Responses to questions submitted on time will be posted publicly on SAM.gov within two (2) business days after questions deadline, 5:00 PM EST, Friday, May 17, 2024.

Solicitation uploading will be activated Friday May 17th, 2024, when Question Responses are posted, through June 14, 2024 at 5pm EST

Announcement Downloads

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The future of fighting wildfires will rely on autonomous drone-based artificial intelligence, according to Concordia researchers

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Forest fire season has officially begun in Canada. Across the country’s north and west, well over 100 wildfires have been reported. Towns like Fort McMurray, devastated by fire in 2016, have been partially evacuated and air quality alerts are being issued in Canada and part of the United States.

The key to containing the damage caused by climate-change-driven fires is early detection: the sooner these fires are spotted, the quicker and easier they can be extinguished. Most early-detection systems use a cocktail of satellite imagery, ground sensors and helicopter-based observation. But researchers at Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science are developing an entirely automated system instead. It combines deep neural networks, image processing and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) to spot and track fires before they blaze out of control.

In a paper published in IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics , the authors propose their method that employs UAV-based visual-infrared camera aerial images in an integrated design.

“The drones act as a mobile sensor, which makes them more convenient,” says Youmin Zhang , a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering and the paper’s corresponding author.

“They allow for faster action at a lower cost. With visual and infrared cameras and the embedded artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, we can move toward autonomous operations of forest fire detection and control.”

Three researchers stand in a room of UAVs

An affordable, autonomous solution

The system designed by the researchers is made up of three main modules.

The first uses a type of image-analysis neural network called an attention-gate U-Net, which focuses on specific and relevant parts of an image in a highly detailed and structured way. This helps identify smoke and suspected flame segmentation while decreasing the risks of false alarms.

The second module determines the location of the UAV and fires. The system relies on a monocular simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) algorithm, a technique used in computer vision to track and map a camera’s environment. This is applied alongside wildfire spot distance estimation algorithms, which predict the spread of the forest fire’s embers using a sophisticated model based on variables such as wind, ember size, topography and heat, along with the UAV’s own GPS system to geolocate the suspected wildfire spots.

Last, a transformation matrix is used to register visual and infrared images. This helps avoid false detection of forest fires and presents a complete picture without any key details or segments left out.

The researchers point out that the visual cameras used in their research are common and affordable, and they are capable of capturing images of rising smoke. But because forest fires usually start under the tree canopy and are undetectable by conventional visual cameras, the infrared camera can detect a new fire’s radiation emissions and heat signals, thus enabling the system to accurately geoposition it before it grows into an inferno.

While field testing proved that their method worked on a small scale, Zhang and his co-authors say much more work needs to be done before their method can be employed by fire-fighting agencies. Capacity and computer resources are obstacles they must still overcome. But he is confident their approach is heading in a promising direction.

“In some senses, our research is leading in the investigation and verification of this technique, and in developing a theory toward a real application in the future.”

PhD student Linhan Qiao and Shun Li, MSc 23, are co-first authors. Associate professor and Concordia University Research Chair (Tier 2) in Artificial Intelligence in Cyber Security and Resilience Jun Yan also contributed to this work as co-supervisor to Li.

The research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and by the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Québec project called AirTanker Visual Intelligent Tracking & Airborne Guidance System (AVITAGS).

Read the cited paper: “ Early Wildfire Detection and Distance Estimation Using Aerial Visible-Infrared Images .”

Related topics

You might also like:.

  • Concordian Noah Larocque is working to control B.C. and Alberta wildfires

Artist and alumnus Charles Campbell’s proposal chosen to inaugurate the Honouring Black Presence at Concordia public art program

Artist and alumnus Charles Campbell’s proposal chosen to inaugurate the Honouring Black Presence at Concordia public art program

Concordia added $2B to Quebec’s economy in 2022, a new economic assessment finds

Concordia added $2B to Quebec’s economy in 2022, a new economic assessment finds

Concordia’s 3rd annual Miywâcimo! storytelling competition highlights Indigenous student research

Concordia’s 3rd annual Miywâcimo! storytelling competition highlights Indigenous student research

© Concordia University


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  26. PHMSA Safety Research Announcement #693JK324RA0001

    With proposal development, it is highly recommended to review the available materials from these events as they pertain to the technical needs of each topic. ... Solicited research topics can be found in (RA #693JK324RA0001 Attachment #7 Research Topics). Register for PHMSA Safety Research Announcement #693JK324RA0001; FAQ; Announcement Details ...

  27. Project 2025

    Project 2025, also known as the Presidential Transition Project, is a collection of policy proposals to fundamentally reshape the U.S. federal government in the event of a Republican victory in the 2024 U.S. presidential election. Established in 2022, the project aims to recruit tens of thousands of conservatives to the District of Columbia to replace existing federal civil servants—whom ...

  28. The future of fighting wildfires will rely on autonomous drone-based

    The researchers point out that the visual cameras used in their research are common and affordable, and they are capable of capturing images of rising smoke. ... Related topics research climate change Research subjects ... Trending. Artist and alumnus Charles Campbell's proposal chosen to inaugurate the Honouring Black Presence at Concordia ...