How To Write A Research Proposal. Outline, Writing Tips, And More

How to write a research proposal. Comprehensive writing guide

If you want to get into a postgraduate program or get funding for your project, a research proposal can be the deciding factor in your favor. As SpeedyPaper provides online paper help for undergraduate students and postgrads across a variety of classes and topics, we’re happy to help you, too. Today, our writers will teach you how to write a proposal for a research paper using tried-and-true outlines and techniques.

What is the goal of a research proposal?

First, let’s go over “What is a research proposal essay?” It’s a short plan outlining your future research project designed to present your understanding of the problem, showcase your research design, and convince your advisor, department, or board to accept you into the program or provide funding.

A research proposal is somewhat similar to a business plan, where you explain to your investors how you’re going to make money to guarantee their profit. Instead of revenue streams, you’ll present your research methods, and instead of ROI, you’ll explain what makes your research valuable for the industry.

Remember that the research proposal is as useful for you as it is valuable for other readers. Working on it will help you prepare for working on the research project and save your time in the long run, even if parts of it evolve in the process. On the other hand, your advisor and the board will use the proposal to assess your suitability for the program and provide actionable feedback and recommendations for your further academic endeavors.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
When working on your piece, think of your goals instead of focusing on “What is a research proposal?” Whether you wish to get funding or be accepted into a program, highlight its relevance, alignment with the school mission, or potential return on investment.

How long should a research proposal be?

The answer depends on your academic level and school. For instance, undergraduate proposals for theses and capstone projects can be between 10 and 20 pages. But for a doctoral program, your proposal can be 30 to 40 pages or longer. That includes a title page, abstract, table of contents, and a reference list.

So, for a specific answer to the question of “How long should a research proposal be?” you should consult your academic advisor or school guidelines.

Sample research proposal structure

There’s no one-size-fits-all proposal outline for research paper writing. Different majors, topics, academic levels, and schools will result in structure variations. Still, some segments are universal. For instance, the introduction, literature review, and research design, along with the bibliography, are the four pillars of any proposal.

The introduction, as always, is the section necessary to grab the readers’ attention, introduce the topic, and provide context. It’s usually hard to come up with a good introduction at the start of the writing process, so feel free to leave it for last.

In the literature review, you should demonstrate your familiarity with the topic, its current state, and gaps or inconsistencies in its understanding. We recommend focusing on the latest research findings published in peer-reviewed journals for this section. The more you find, the better, but your advisor should specify the minimum number of references necessary.

Research design is probably the most challenging section of the proposal, as it requires you to actually map out your plans. You’ll need to settle on research methods (experiments, surveys, data analysis, etc.), justify your choices, and describe how you’ll process the collected data. Once you start your research, you’ll likely need to adjust your initial research plans, especially if some of your hypotheses get disproved. Still, having a plan before starting the work is very beneficial.

Finally, the reference list is evidence of your familiarity with the latest accomplishments within the field. A large number of varied primary and secondary sources will prove you have a firm enough grasp of the issue to identify problems, formulate hypotheses, and conduct research.

Here’s a research proposal sample outline that includes standard sections suitable for most research fields:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  1. Topic introduction
  2. Issue’s relevance
  3. Research questions or hypotheses
  • Literature review
  1. Analysis of current knowledge
  2. Inconsistencies, knowledge gaps
  • Research design
  1. Qualitative or quantitative research
  2. Sample size
  3. Sampling methodology
  4. Software and equipment necessary
  5. Ethical considerations
  • Expected results
  1. Summary of potential results
  2. Overview of potential difficulties
  3. Limitations and further research recommendations
  • Research schedule and budget
  1. Timetable for research stages
  2. Funding needs and justification
  • Reference list

Remember to adjust this template to your topic and requirements. For instance, some schools may not need you to include estimated results or ethical considerations for human studies within the proposal, leaving them for the actual project. Besides, abstracts are usually not necessary for shorter works that are under 20 pages long. We suggest presenting a rough outline to your advisor to get their approval before you start the writing process.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Make your outline more detailed and useful with one-sentence summaries of the main points you want to make and cite the references you wish to use in each section as you process them. This will save you a lot of time when you start writing the proposal.

How to write a research proposal

The prospect of completing the proposal is daunting when you think of it as a monumental obstacle. But once you break it down into manageable steps, it becomes much more approachable. Here are the five steps you’ll need to take to get from a blank page to a finished piece:

  1. Choose the research topic. Before you can write a research proposal, you need to narrow your focus to a specific issue or problem you wish to resolve. Its direction and scope will depend on your academic interests, career plans, and academic level. A doctoral thesis can be mostly theoretical and deal with a broader scope than an undergraduate capstone project. We suggest formulating several potential topics and running them by your advisor before choosing the winner.
  2. Research the issue and formulate research questions. Focus on finding objective, reliable, and unbiased sources published within the last five to ten years. Read up on the issue and take notes. You need to focus on the gaps and inconsistencies in the common knowledge to find a niche for your research. They will help you formulate research aims and objectives, as well as research questions and hypotheses.
  3. Outline the proposal. We’ve already covered the basic structure of a research proposal, so all you need to do is delete any sections that aren’t applicable to your project and customize it. Unless you need to submit an outline for grading, you can make it as rough as you please, filling in the blanks with short sentence fragments or phrases to guide you once you sit down to write a research proposal.
  4. Write the proposal. With all the preliminary work out of the way, the hardest challenge is to make yourself start typing. If procrastination gets the better of you, find ways to fit in short writing sessions between other tasks. For instance, use your smartphone to dictate your notes and get speech-to-text software to transcribe them. Adding even a single paragraph to your proposal every day will get you closer to the finish line, so build it into your daily routine.
  5. Edit, proofread, and format the proposal. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste just because you feel your first draft is perfect. Take your time to revise it like a critic and make the most of advanced software to eliminate typos and generate in-line citations and the reference list to speed things up.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
For more advice on how to write a proposal for an essay or how to write a movie review, check out the SpeedyPaper blog. You’ll find lots of helpful tips, paper examples, and topic samples across a variety of classes and topics.

Mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal

Now that you know the basic steps of how to write a research proposal following the standard outline, let’s talk about missteps you should avoid. These tips will help you complete the project on time and receive favorable results.


  1. Pick the most obvious research topic. Easy topics are tempting because they’ll give you less trouble, but they are also boring and uninspired for you, your advisor, and the department board.
  2. Get stuck on research and samples. Reading a research proposal example or two can be helpful, but you must set a maximum limit for yourself to avoid procrastination and finish your piece before the deadline.
  3. Ignore the chance to get the professor’s feedback. An outside perspective is invaluable for achieving top results, so try to touch base with your advisor at every stage of the writing process.
  4. Expect to write a research proposal in a day or two. Rushing through the task will make your writing sloppy, and your proposal will likely be rejected.
  5. Skip the editing and proofreading stage. Even if you’re short on time, polishing the proposal and eliminating typos is crucial for making it look professional, especially if funding is on the line.
  6. Overlook the options to get extra help. If you’ve never gotten help with college economics homework or English essays, you’re missing out. Even if you don’t want someone else writing your proposal, you can hire a professional editor to clean it up.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Create a writing plan and stick to it. For instance, set aside 30 minutes per day for research and writing, set up weekly meetings or calls with your advisor, and set your personal deadline three days before the submission date to have enough time for revisions.

Final thoughts

Working on a research proposal can be intimidating, especially if your academic and professional future is on the line. Hopefully, our recommendations and tips will help guide you through the process and complete the piece in time. But if you feel out of your depth, stressed and desperate, SpeedyPaper writing paper online will have your back. Contact our support team to describe your task, and they’ll match you with the best expert to deal with it. Place the order, and we’ll start working on it right away, getting you one step closer to school success.

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