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How to Write a Research Proposal for

Research Based Higher Degree Program?

Faisal Riyad Follow
Dec 9 · 6 min read

Image Source: University of Phoenix Research Hub

Research proposal (RP) is a key element of the application for a

research based higher degree programs in number of universities
around the world. Failure to write a good RP may lead to one to be
unsuccessful in getting into a higher degree research program.

So, what is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is an outline of your future research project that:

• Defines a research problem and illustrates your proposed

methods of answering it.

• Features the originality or significance of the research

• Illustrates how it adds to, stems from or challenges the published


• Describes the importance of the research

A RP should be clear, comprehensive, concise and well organized. And,

most importantly, it should have merit and can be done you.

What should be the Length?

An abridged version of RP should be between 3–5 pages which should
contain around 1500–2500 words written in single spaced format.
Though, there is no definite template, but individual applicant might
check with the specific schools to which they are applying about the
template. Some schools might ask you to just write a straightforward
RP or some might provide you a specific template to write, and you
need to strictly follow their guideline.
Essential Components of a RP:
There is no single way defined to structure a RP. However, a complete
RP should have the following structure as follows:

0. Title:
Your RP must have a tentative title for your intended research. The
title should include keywords and communicates your research idea
with the reader.

1.0 Introduction:
In this part you should convey a brief idea about your RP, the general
domain in which it falls into, the specific area of your interest, why you
choose that specific area, the research question you will address to fill
the vacuum, why it is important, the aim and objective you will try to
achieve and a tentative statement of your preliminary thesis. The
introduction should provide the comprehensive summary of your RP
so that a general reader might get a clear idea about your proposed

While writing about the background, context and statement of the

proposed problem you might care to answer the following questions:

• What is already known about your topic?

• What is missing?

• What more is needed?

• Is there a problem?

• Why does this problem exist?

While writing the introductory part it is also important to convey the

message about the significant impact of your proposed study to the
reader. In more simple tone, i should rather say that you need to
answer this question “Why your proposed research is important?”. In
order to do so, you might write a brief paragraph which should consists
of the answers as follows:
1. What will be the contribution of your proposed research? To
whom and How it will make it? Why it will work?

2. How original your idea is?

3. Is this research worth pursuing? If yes, Why?

4. What are the theoretical aspects and practical importance of the

outcomes of your research?

5. Which research issues are substantiated by the published


6. How your research will address the existing issues?

7. What are the expected outcomes and their benefits?

8. How you can link your research with the contemporary


2.0 Scope, Aims and Objectives of the Study:

As a wannabe PhD student you might be overambitious regarding your
scope and objectives of the proposed study so that you can achieve a
lot than anyone did. But you need to keep in mind that you cannot
provide solutions to 100 provide problems that you might think of. You
are applying to a program which is 3–4 years of length and within that
time-frame you need to set the number of objectives in such way that
they are realistically achievable. So, optimize your objectives
according to the duration of the program and the complexities of the
problem. The following questions should be answered while you are
writing this section:

1. What do I intend to prove or disprove?

2. What shall I understand more deeply, analyze, evaluate or create?

3. What shall I test and demonstrate?

4. Is there a hierarchical list of aims I seek to achieve?

2.0 Literature Review:
In this part you should outline the most important research that has
already been carried out in your research area. Literature review offers
a brief overview of your study based on what others have done in your
area of proposed research. The answers of the following questions
might be a good guide to write a comprehensive literature review:

• What are the major issues currently prevailing on this topic?

• Which gaps does the literature highlight?

• What research questions does the literature inform?

• Which hypotheses that you will formulate based on the published


• Does the literature review contain new terms, ideas, concepts that
need to explained?

• Does the literature review discusses about the research methods

that have been used effectively in addressing similar problems?

4.0 Research Questions:

A research question is the cardinal point to which your research efforts
and focuses will center around and a scholarly argument will mount
upon it which will help you to solve the proposed problem. In short,
research questions are the center pillar of your entire research project.
You might prioritize one or two main questions, from which you will
derive a number of secondary research questions that will be very
specific. You can follow a simple 1 and 5 rule for setting up the
research questions. That is, have one overarching question, followed
by no more than five subsidiary questions.
5.0 Research Methodology:
How will you approach the research, design and conduct to answer the
specific set of questions that you introduced—the research
methodology should answer that. Your research methodology
statement should answer the following questions:

• In which Paradigm will you locate your research?

• Why will this be the appropriate paradigm for your research?

• Which research design will you follow? For example, theoretical,

experimental or empirical etc.

• How you justify that you did a optimum design of your research?

• Which instruments you will use?

• How you will gather data?

• Which procedures will you follow?

• Which tools, software or data analysis procedure will you use?

• What are the limitations?

6.0 Time-frame:
You should present the sequences and tentative timeline to complete
each of the research steps that you are planning to take. There is no
hard and fast rule in following strictly the time line, but it gives the
reader the idea about the feasible time length that is required to finish
your tasks. To achieve this aim, you should tabulate data which make
it very clear that you have a reasonable understanding of the time that
you will need for each major part or step of your research study. One
possible good way to design such a Table is to tabulate the different
steps of your research proposal and show what you will do in each
step, when, and how much time you plan to spend on each.
7.0 List of References:
You should list those publications that you have cited in the different
parts of your RP.

To conclude, your research proposal has a direct impact on the overall

strength of your application . Therefore, you should focus on writing a
strong RP.

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