When you are in academia, completing a research project is one of the most enticing things you can think about.

It is your opportunity to tread new ground in your field and inform generations of academics to come with brand-new insight. However, before you start your research, you need funding and support from an institution. Find out more about what a research proposal is and some of the important parts of a research proposal so you can succeed when you apply for your project.

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What is a research proposal?

A research proposal is a document potential researchers provide to academic institutions before starting their project. These are especially important when you are applying for further support from the institution, such as receiving funding from them or getting support from a professor at the university. An expert reads through a research proposal before establishing whether it’s a worthwhile venture for the university and establishes whether the project would add new knowledge to the field.

Research proposals set out the area of research for the project, the specific methods that the project will use, and some of the literature the research will call upon. In addition to establishing whether the research is worth completing, research proposals help get feedback from professors about some of the methods you use and the specific nature of your research question.

Parts of a research proposal

There are several parts of a research proposal, each of which is essential for understanding the general direction of the project. Some of the main parts of the research proposal include the following:

Title page

The title page is one of the most important parts of writing your research proposal. It sets the first impression of the rest of your work and provides a professional appearance for any reader. While it doesn’t have too much information, your font and title phrasing must be perfect, as this engages the reader from the very first page.


The introduction of your research proposal is the first substance that the reader encounters, establishing what your research is and the end goals of your research. Start by identifying the specific area that the problem is in, followed by the scope of the problem under the number of people that deal with the issue on a day-to-day basis. Combine this with saying what you already know about the area of research and while your project is a significant contribution to the topic. Finish this section with a statement of your research question is a natural conclusion to the introduction.

Literature review

A literature review is a stage at which you discuss the existing research in the area and the specific pieces of work you are referencing in your research. Completing this stage demonstrates that you have a comprehensive understanding of some of the existing literature in the space, and you know which pieces of work are reliable and which are to be avoided. An effective literature review impresses professors as it demonstrates that you have a strong existing knowledge of the topic and what makes a good piece of research.


The methodology is one of the most extended pieces of your research proposal as it discusses what you will do throughout the project step by step. This involves everything from collecting information to completing data analysis (if you use primary research) and writing the report at the end of the process. Some of the steps in writing your methodology include the following:

  • The specific design of your research.
  • The sample size of any research you complete and how you select the sample.
  • Any ethical considerations you have as part of the project, including the need for consent from participants.
  • How you measure any data you collect and why you use that method.
  • How you plan to analyze any data and any limitations, your method might come up against.


Your references refer to the existing literature in the area that you will use in your research. By setting out the references that you use at this early stage, you set a strong impression on any academics that read through your proposal, as they know that you are using some of the more reputable sources in the subject. This also demonstrates that you clearly understand the subject and know the direction in which you want your project to go.


Appendices refer to any additional documentation that you attach to your research proposal. This includes any consent forms you have for interviews, any flow charts you create for your research, and any existing preliminary research you have completed before writing your research proposal. This demonstrates to the reader that you are fully prepared for the project ahead of you and take all ethical considerations into account from the start.

The importance of a research proposal

There are a few reasons that a research proposal is one of the most important parts of your project. The first of these is that a successful research proposal is the first step in getting your project off the ground, as many research projects require external funding and impress investors from the start.

Additionally, researchers benefit from using a research proposal as it guides the project throughout and ensures you don’t deviate from the original goals. This leads to a better quality report at the very end of the project.