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How to write a Research Proposal

How to write a research proposal

If you wish to pursue your PhD abroad, you’ll probably have to write a research proposal as part of your application for a PhD position. A well-written research proposal can improve your chances of getting selected.  This post describes what a research proposal is and what should be included in it.

Research proposal has two main goals. One is to present and demonstrate the need to investigate a research issue. Second is to present the realistic ways in which the proposed study can be carried out. A plan for research explains what you’re going to study, why it’s relevant, and how you’re going to conduct the research.

All the key factors involved in conducting a full research project should be included in a proposal. Ample detail should be provided, which can help readers to determine the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed project. It’s important to be coherent, descriptive, and persuasive in your proposal. Let’s have a look at different sections of a research proposal.

What should be included in a research proposal

While thinking about how to write a research proposal, you may face many confusions about what should be included in a research proposal. A research proposal usually includes the following sections:


The title should be clear and easy to understand. Try thinking about a title that is insightful yet catchy. At this stage, it can be just a tentative title because it may change later once you explore the topic in more detail. The title is usually the first impression of your research proposal and it should catch the attention of readers. Try to make sure that readers don’t have to go through the title twice in order to understand it.


In this section, you introduce your topic and give an overview of its background. Mention briefly what has already been done in this particular field and what is missing that you’d like to study. Moreover, write about how the outcome of your study will contribute to this field. Keep in mind that your audience might not understand as much about the research problem as you do. Introduction should allow readers to develop a rough understanding of your work. Additionally, it should persuade them to go through further sections of your proposal to enrich their understanding.

Research Questions

The research questions should be very clear as they are the foundation of what your study is leading to. Writing a successful research question means you’ve got something you want to examine. Turn the questions into what you want to learn and the basic issue. Be certain that the questions are answerable. Do your homework and make sure that the issue is neither too wide nor too narrow. When you start writing a research proposal, remember that this is an important section because it develops a base for further sections.

Literature Review

The objective here is to put your project inside the wider whole of what is being discussed at present, while showing your readers that your work is original and creative. Since a literature review is rich in details, formulate this section in such a way that it’s easy to understand. Write a research proposal to encourage a reader to consider the main arguments that underpin your analysis in relation to that of other scholars. In addition to gathering relevant literature from books, it’s important to go through recent developments by reading research papers.

Research Methodology

The methodology that will be used to perform the study and sources of these methods should be addressed in this section. Include why you’re planning on using certain methods and how are they better than other methods. Depending upon the nature of work, explain how data will be collected, for example details of experiments or surveys. Furthermore, make clear note of the analytical methods and statistical analysis that will be used to process and interpret this data.

Implications and Contribution to Knowledge

Describe how your research work may contribute to current expertise on the subject. For instance, your findings may be useful for:

  • Improving procedures in a given area or sector
  • Informing policy priorities
  • Reinforcement of a hypothesis or model
  • Challenging science or common theories
  • Creating a base for further study


When you write a research proposal, the conclusion is not simply a restatement of the introduction, but a description of key points. It clarifies your proposal’s relevance or meaning and includes a concise overview of the whole report. This section should be just one or two paragraphs long, stressing why it’s worth exploring the research issue. It should summarize why your research analysis is special and how the underlying field will benefit from your research work.

Tentative timeline

Depending upon what is the normal time period for a PhD in the country where you’re applying, make a tentative timeline for your research project. Divide your work in different phases, such as literature review, experiments/surveys, analysis, etc. and make a suitable roadmap. For example, you can define some major and minor milestones and make a rough timeline about how much time is needed for different milestones.


As for any academic research article, the references you used for composing your research proposal, especially the literature review part of it, should be cited. Additional references, which help understand your research project better, may also be cited. It’s better to differentiate between these two kinds of references. So that readers can clearly see which references you used for writing the proposal and which ones are not used but are relevant.

Appropriate Length of a Research Proposal

Best practice is to follow the word limit defined by the university or organization where you’re applying. If no clear instructions are available, a research proposal of about 2000 words may work. Your research proposal should answer all the questions relevant to the research problem. The proposal should persuade readers that your research project will have a considerable contribution to the field. Furthermore, it should show that you’ve a good understanding of the topic and a proper plan to work on the project.


We hope this post serves as a guide for writing a research proposal, so that you can fulfil your dream of pursuing a PhD abroad. Good luck with your applications!

Your research proposal plays a vital role in your PhD applications. In order to make your research proposal stand out and enhance your chances of getting selected, check out our Document Review Services.

If you want tips on how to prepare admission documents such as CV, Letter of Motivation (LOM), Letter of Recommendation (LOR) etc., check out Steps to Study Abroad.


Author: Adil Ilyas

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