How to Write a Research Proposal
Most students and beginning researchers do not fully understand what a research proposal means, nor do they understand its importance. To put it bluntly, one's research is only as a good as one's proposal. An ill-conceived proposal dooms the project even if it somehow gets through the Thesis Supervisory Committee. A high quality proposal, on the other hand, not only promises success for the project, but also impresses your Thesis Committee about your potential as a researcher.
A research proposal is intended to convince others that you have a worthwhile research project and that you have the competence and the work-plan to complete it. Generally, a research proposal should contain all the key elements involved in the research process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study.
Regardless of your research area and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions: What you plan to accomplish, why you want to do it and how you are going to do it.
The proposal should have sufficient information to convince your readers that you have an important research idea, that you have a good grasp of the relevant literature and the major issues, and that your methodology is sound.
The quality of your research proposal depends not only on the quality of your proposed project, but also on the quality of your proposal writing. A good research project may run the risk of rejection simply because the proposal is poorly written. Therefore, it pays if your writing is coherent, clear and compelling.
This paper focuses on proposal writing rather than on the development of research ideas.
It should be concise and descriptive. For example, the phrase, "An investigation of . . ." could be omitted. Often titles are stated in terms of a functional relationship, because such titles clearly indicate the independent and dependent variables. However, if possible, think of an informative but catchy title. An effective title not only pricks the reader's interest, but also predisposes him/her favourably towards the proposal.
It is a brief summary of approximately 300 words. It should include the research question, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), the method and the main findings. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and any instruments that will be used.
The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or context for your research problem. How to frame the research problem is perhaps the biggest problem in proposal writing.
If the research problem is framed in the context of a general, rambling literature review, then the research question may appear trivial and uninteresting. However, if the same question is placed in the context of a very focused and current research area, its significance will become evident.
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on how to frame your research question just as there is no prescription on how to write an interesting and informative opening paragraph. A lot depends on your creativity, your ability to think clearly and the depth of your understanding of problem areas.
However, try to place your research question in the context of either a current "hot" area, or an older area that remains viable. Secondly, you need to provide a brief but appropriate historical backdrop. Thirdly, provide the contemporary context in which your proposed research question occupies the central stage. Finally, identify "key players" and refer to the most relevant and representative publications. In short, try to paint your research question in broad brushes and at the same time bring out its significance.
The introduction typically begins with a general statement of the problem area, with a focus on a specific research problem, to be followed by the rational or justification for the proposed study. The introduction generally covers the following elements:
Sometimes the literature review is incorporated into the introduction section. However, most professors prefer a separate section, which allows a more thorough review of the literature.
The literature review serves several important functions:
Most students' literature reviews suffer from the following problems:
Your scholarship and research competence will be questioned if any of the above applies to your proposal.
There are different ways to organize your literature review. Make use of subheadings to bring order and coherence to your review. For example, having established the importance of your research area and its current state of development, you may devote several subsections on related issues as: theoretical models, measuring instruments, cross-cultural and gender differences, etc.
It is also helpful to keep in mind that you are telling a story to an audience. Try to tell it in a stimulating and engaging manner. Do not bore them, because it may lead to rejection of your worthy proposal. (Remember: Professors and scientists are human beings too.)
The Method section is very important because it tells your Research Committee how you plan to tackle your research problem. It will provide your work plan and describe the activities necessary for the completion of your project.
The guiding principle for writing the Method section is that it should contain sufficient information for the reader to determine whether methodology is sound. Some even argue that a good proposal should contain sufficient details for another qualified researcher to implement the study.
You need to demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods and make the case that your approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address your research question.
Please note that your research question may be best answered by qualitative research. However, since most mainstream psychologists are still biased against qualitative research, especially the phenomenological variety, you may need to justify your qualitative method.
Furthermore, since there are no well-established and widely accepted canons in qualitative analysis, your method section needs to be more elaborate than what is required for traditional quantitative research. More importantly, the data collection process in qualitative research has a far greater impact on the results as compared to quantitative research. That is another reason for greater care in describing how you will collect and analyze your data. (How to write the Method section for qualitative research is a topic for another paper.)
For quantitative studies, the method section typically consists of the following sections:
Obviously you do not have results at the proposal stage. However, you need to have some idea about what kind of data you will be collecting, and what statistical procedures will be used in order to answer your research question or test you hypothesis.
It is important to convince your reader of the potential impact of your proposed research. You need to communicate a sense of enthusiasm and confidence without exaggerating the merits of your proposal. That is why you also need to mention the limitations and weaknesses of the proposed research, which may be justified by time and financial constraints as well as by the early developmental stage of your research area.
Common Mistakes in Proposal Writing
下面的Proposal写作资源由University of Massachusetts列出：
Proposal Development Tools
- Art of Writing Proposals (Social Science Research Council)
- Basic Budget Building Tutorial from OGCA
- Basic Elements of Grant Writing from Corporation of Public Broadcasting
- Funding Definitions
- Grant Writing Guide
- Guide for Proposal Writing from the National Science Foundation
- Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal with examples from Michigan State University
- Original How to Write a Grant Application (from NIH/NIAID)
- Proposal Writing - Points of Pride about UMass Amherst
- Proposal Writing Short Course (Foundation Center)
- Short Guide to the Preparation of NIH Grant Applications
- UMass Proposal Submission Procedures
- Successful Proposal Development, for New Faculty presented by Bruce McCandless
Director, Office of Research Affairs
来自密歇根大学的Proposal Writer’s Guide（by Don Thackrey）非常详细，除了写作外，还有做预算等指导，也包括Grant Proposal的写作，而且主要是针对学生之外的教师、研究者，很有参考价值。全文在此，大纲见下：Foreword
This Guide is intended for faculty and staff members with little or no experience in writing proposals for sponsored activities.I. Introduction II. The Parts of a Proposal
A. Research Proposals The Title Page
The Table of Contents
The Background Section
The Description of Proposed Research
The Description of Relevant Institutional Resources
The List of References
The Personnel Section
The Budget Section
The Appendices B. Proposals for Academic Programs
下面是University of Wisconsin-Madison给出的有关Grant Proposal写作的参考，按申请资金来源分为三类：所有研究基金proposal、非政府资助proposal、（美国）政府资助proposal（本文从略）：Research Funding Proposals
- All About Grants Tutorials
For biomedical investigators applying for NIH research project grants. Maintained by its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal
Written by S. Joseph Levine of Michigan State University. Offers excellent advice on all parts of the proposal. Includes a sample proposal and links to other proposal writing sites.
- Proposal Writer’s Guide
An excellent outline by Donald Thackrey for academic faculty and staff. Especially useful. A site maintained by the University of Michigan’s Division of Research and Development Administration.
- Proposal Preparation and Submission
A site maintained by the University of Michigan’s Division of Research and Development Administration.
- Proposal Writing: Selected Web Sites
Outstanding. Provides essential links for university scholars and researchers needing more than here on research funding in particular.
The following web sites offer excellent guidelines for grant proposal writing. Some include advice on letters of inquiry and sample proposals as well.
- Writing Winning Proposals: An Introduction
Excellent advice from the ASME: American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
- Grant Proposal Writing Tips
Some good, clearly-stated tips from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which reviews hundreds of proposals a year.
Well organized site on proposal writing. Includes an overview, inquiry and cover letters, standard components of a proposal, a sample proposal, advice from funders, and more. An excellent section on researching funding opportunities is included also.
- How to Write a Mission Statement
A clear outline by Janet M. Radtke on writing a mission statement for an organization. A site of the Los-Angeles based Grantsmanship Center. (pdf)
- National Network of Grantmakers: NNG Common Grant Application
This common grant application form is accepted by a number of foundations. It can also be useful in organizing the information needed in a project proposal. (pdf)
- Nonprofit Guides: Grant Writing Tools for Nonprofit Organizations
An excellent grantwriting outline by the SeaCoast Web Design staff. Includes sample grant proposal, inquiry letter, proposed budget, applications and links to grantwriting resources.
- The Foundation Center’s Proposal Writing Short Course
Free, online course.
- The Foundation Center’s Proposal Budgeting Basics
Free, online course.
- Foundation Center Webinars on Proposal Writing Basics
Free; must register in advance.
- The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing, 5th ed. - An Audio Book!
Free audio book from the Foundation Center. Listen online now or download for later listening.
- Sample Grant Proposals
Proposals from the Idea Bank’s Grant Writing Course. Most are successfully funded, and are for funding for fire departments.
- School Grants
Offers a number of education-focused, successful, sample proposals. Most are directed to corporate or government funding sources and are downloadable in PDF format.
- Winning Grant Proposals Online
Provides funded grant proposals for sale in a variety of categories. Particularly well-stocked with federal grant proposals. A site from the Grantsmanship Center, a Los-Angeles based proposal training center.
- Wisconsin Common Application Form (Donors Forum of Wisconsin)
A form used by a variety of Wisconsin grantmakers.
- Writing a Successful Grant Proposal
An excellent and thorough guide for writing grant proposals, from the Minnesota Council on Foundations. FAQs include pros and cons of hiring a professional grantwriter and what to do if a proposal is funded.
WRITING GUIDES 写作指南
- The Elements of a Proposal
Frank Pajares, Emory University
- Beginners Guide to the Research Proposal
University of Calgary, Manitoba, Canada, The Centre for Advancement of Health
- Some Thoughts on Dissertation Proposal Writing
Professor Chris M. Gold, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D., Michigan State University
- Conceptualizing, Writing, and Revising a Social Science Research Proposal
Institute of International Studies, University of California-Berkeley
- SUNY Institute of Technology
State University of New York
This is a PDF and may take several seconds to load. It’s worth the wait.
- The Proposal in Qualitative Research
Anthony W. Heath, PhD, Division of Behavioral Sciences, McNeal Family Practice Residency
- How To Write A Dissertation: or Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep
Douglas E. Comer, Purdue University
Note: Even if you’re not writing a dissertation, you’ll find some excellent writing tips in this source.
- Resources for Graduate Student Writers
Sweetland Writing Center, University of Michigan
- Writing Theses and Dissertations
Claremont Graduate University Writing Center
- Teaching the Research Proposal: A Brief Process-Oriented Overview
Writing Center, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
- Dissertation Proposal Writing Tutorial
Elys Ben Salem, University of Kansas
- Guidelines & Requirements for NEJS Dissertation Proposals
- The Art of Writing Proposals
Adam Przeworski and Frank Salomon, Social Science Research Council
- How to Write a Research Proposal
- Resources for Proposal Writers
The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
PROPOSAL TEMPLATE 计划书模板
TEMPLATE for an APA-Style Proposal
Nelson L. Eby, in collaboration with Dr. Douglas Degelman, Professor of Psychology,
Vanguard University of Southern California
Template may need modification for your program.
- APA-Style Proposal #1: Intercessory Prayer and Task Performance
Douglas Degelman, Ph.D., and Martin Lorenzo Harris, Ph.D.
Vanguard University of Southern California
- APA-Style Proposal #2: Infants’ Perceived Gender and Adolescents’ Ratings
- Douglas Degelman, Ph.D., and Martin Lorenzo Harris, Ph.D.
Vanguard University of Southern California
- Dissertation Proposals
University of Maryland, Department of Computer Science
- Dissertations in Instructional Systems Technology
Indiana University School of Education
Note: Not in APA style, but content is useful