How To Write A Strong Research Proposal, Thesis or Dissertation


“How do you write a strong research proposal?” is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions from students and people starting their PhD”. It’s possible that studying this topic will be too difficult. Good thing, you will learn how to structure your paper in a simple and concise manner at The Page Doctor!

You’re probably stuck, thinking things like “Okay, I have to create a proposal,” “I don’t know where to start,” and “I don’t know how to do this.” After reading this blog, you will have a basic structure of a proposal that you can work on and maybe send to us at the page doctor so that we can clean it up and tweak it to ensure that you are accepted into the school of your choice.

What is a research Proposal?

Simply put, a research proposal is a structured, formal document that explains what you intend to study. It’s likely to be one of the most important documents you’ll ever write before beginning your PhD or research program. It defines a question and specifies the strategy you’ll use to answer it. It also places you within the realm of the research that’s currently out there and shows sort of what your kind of approach is for. Without a proposal, there is no plan. Without a plan, there is no project. That is the key thing to take away you need a proposal.

What is the ideal length for a research proposal?

Always remember that the structure of a research proposal includes eight different sections and is approximately 2000 to about 2500 words maximum. It should never be too short but also shouldn’t be too long. So it includes the following sections: a title, an abstract, research background, research questions, research methods, the significance, a timeline of your proposed project, and lastly a bibliography or a reference list.

What is the structure of a Research Proposal?

1. Title

Now, when thinking about your title, think about what keywords define your project.

If someone were to search for your work, consider these questions:

  • What keywords would they have to look for in order to identify your particular project?
  • How would you describe your research?
  • What are the terms that you need to include to be able to say “This is the work that I’m doing.”?

Remember that this is the section that will definitely change the title that you propose in the beginning. It will be revised as you go along, depending on the direction that your project takes in the end. If you don’t think that’s the title you’ll graduate with, it probably isn’t. Don’t feel pressured to create the best title ever because it’s definitely going to change.

2. Abstract

The abstract is traditionally used to summarize your research, talking about the content, the research question, the method that you took, the results, and the discussion. But obviously, in this case, you’re discussing proposed research. So, you haven’t actually done it yet. In this case, the abstract is very short around a hundred words and it’s a statement that highlights the issue that you are concerned with and that you are going to be kind of discussing in this proposal.

3. Research Background

Now, this is a bit like a literature review but a bit more concise than a traditional literature review. This sets the context for the research proposal:

  • What literature are you basing this research on?

You should have done a lot of reading to understand where your work is going to fit into the field, and that is where you’re going to describe what that field is.

  • What information does the reader need to know to understand your field?
  • What information does the reader need to know what gap there is in literature?

The most important consideration here is trying to think about the current debates that are in the literature.

  • What is the current state of knowledge?
  • What do people say about your topic?
  • Is there sort of one side that says this is happening and the other side is saying that’s happening?
  • What is the stance that you are taking concerning the current debates in the literature that is essentially what you are trying to summarize within the research background?

This should be really a concise section where you’re highlighting the top papers that are relevant to your topic. Don’t underestimate the importance of this section, you know you’re submitting this to another expert in the field so they will know what papers and what literature is the most important and they’ll know whether you’ve done the most exhaustive reading or not.

4. Research Questions

This is essentially defining what it is you are seeking out with this research:

  • What are the central aims that run through your study?

You need to really think about where your research fits into the field whether your questions are feasible.

  • Have they been answered before?

If yes, that’s not an original study. It needs to provide new information to the field, a new sort of insight, new direction, and new consideration.

You should really have one or two main questions, and then a couple of sub-questions that feed into answering that main overarching question.

5. Methodology

The research method or methodology part comes next, and it’s usually the bulkiest and most significant. You’re defining your strategy right now. You stated the problem, the knowledge gap, and how you intend to address it.

Define the methods

Consider these questions:

  • How exactly are you planning on determining the answer to the question of your research?

You need to justify everything in this section.

  • Why have your chosen quantitative over qualitative?
  • Why have you chosen a mixed method?
  • Why have you chosen this certain type?
  • Why have you chosen any method that you discussed?

You need to say why you’ve chosen it and justify the choices that you made.

This area of your research proposal is the most important in determining the success of your project as it is the most weighted section.

It’s all well and good to say we don’t understand how this thing happens. If you don’t have a method to back that up or a method that would actually work and is feasible, then projects can’t run. So, it’s important to have considered the methods very well.

You should also evaluate any constraints, that many people overlook. They don’t say what concerns or challenges they might face. People miss this because they don’t want to admit that there could be a problem. However, if you’re trying to collect data from a cell type that’s uncommon or difficult to find, or if you’re trying to interview people in a rural region, for example, you’re going to be faced with challenges and it’s naïve to assume that you won’t.

It’s important that you say “Right, these are the challenges that I could be faced with and this is how I’m planning to overcome them”. This shows that you’ve got the correct sort of research mindset where you’re considering challenges, considering outcomes, you’re considering alternative options because, in research, nothing goes to plan. It’s important that you’ve got that mindset where you’re thinking about plan B.

Lastly, in this part, you also want to think about analysis. So, you’re doing a questionnaire, a qualitative analysis:

  • How are you going to be analyzing that?
  • Are you analyzing that through a thematic topic?
  • Are you analyzing that through a T-test?
  • How are you planning to analyze your data?

This is important because it means that you’ve considered the next step. It’s all well and good to have a thousand questionnaires filled out.

  • How are you then planning to collate that data?
  • How are you planning to analyze that data and have those final results and final comments?

Ultimately, remember that the research proposal is purely just a proposal. You are not meant to be an expert, you are not meant to know all the answers, but you are meant to have considered and looked at the research out there and thought about what ways have people done this before.

  • How could I approach this situation?

You will then have the option if you get accepted to discuss this in further detail and kind of build on that initial plan. But it’s important that you brought that independent thought to the table to show that you are a suitable and strong candidate.

6. Significance

Consider these questions:

  • Why is this work significant?
  • Why is this work a project that the supervisor should take on?
  • How is your work original?
  • How does your work stand out from all the works out there before?
  • What new thing are you bringing to the table?
  • How does the work build on what we already know?

So, to be able to say that this work is significant, you need to say “We know this thing and I’m going to be building on this thing and that’s going to be able to support future work”.

  • Why is your work what work that you think people are going to be interested in and is work that is significant in the general field that you’re interested in?

7. Timeline

Think about what that timeline could be.

This is something that is frequently overlooked. You’re aware that your project is a three-to four-year Ph.D. project in the United Kingdom. So, what is this timeline that you are hoping to stick to? The first year could include conducting basic research, recruiting individuals, creating a questionnaire, and completing some reading. The second-year might be in charge of conducting those interviews. The third-year might be spent doing analysis, reading interviews, or whatever else you like. So that’s what you’re looking for. You should consider what that timeline might be.

Things might not go to plan.

It’s going to change 110%. But again, it shows that you’ve thought about a kind of timeline. Things might not go to plan. If they don’t, “I’ll do this instead”, “This could happen if not, this is going to happen”, “This is going to happen first, then that’s going to happen”. You want a timeline. It shows you’ve considered your methods, considered your approach, and considered how long of a time it might actually take you.

8. Bibliography

Here, you want to detail the key pieces of work and the key literature that your work is based on. So, I would probably limit this to five to ten, ten maximum.

  • What are the pieces of literature that you, for example, read and then based your questions on?
  • Where was the gap in what you read and then thought I need to answer that?
  • What was that paper?
  • Let’s say, I had to read your review and I knew nothing about your topic. What five to ten papers would I have to read to understand the field and then understand how your work is going to add to that field and build on that field and give that substance?

That is what you need to think about again and remember that the lecturer or the professor, the supervisor that you’re applying to, will be an expert in that field. Do consider the amount of reading that you’ve done and make sure that you’ve done enough to be able to have picked out whose papers are.

“How do you write a proposal?” is a commonly requested question. ”. It’s not difficult to write, especially if you know your literature and you know the sort of question that you’re thinking about writing. It’s a document with a very simple and consistent structure.

If you do want someone to look at it professionally to make sure that you are on track and you’ve answered all of those questions correctly, then do send it forward to for an edit!


🙋If you want to access our expert-designed templates, resources and step-by-step guides to support you through all stages of your academic journey, download them here

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By Amina Yonis

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