A research project proposal is a systematic compilation of idea that how one is going to perform his research on a proposed problem. It also states that what would be the objectives and with what methodology one is going to perform his research. In a research proposal one also explains that how the proposed study will be useful to the scientific community and the community in general. Besides, a research proposal also comprises the detailed project planning, scheduling of various research activities and the detailed project budgeting.

Purpose of the Research Proposal

A good research proposal is one which fulfills the purpose; i) Convinces the other people, ii) Demonstrates expertise, iii) Demonstrates competency, iv) Serve as a contract and v) Serve as a planning tool.

Covince Other People

The main function of any research proposal is to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors/ advisors that your research is worth spending resources on. You convince people of the value of your work by showing them how your research will make a difference to the world, or by identifying the short comings and gaps in the existing theory which your research will help in resolving.

Demonstrate Expertise

Research proposal helps to demonstrate expertise in a particular area of study. With your research proposal you convince people that you have enough understanding of the research topic to be able of the research properly. In a research proposal this is done by intelligently summarizing, comparing and integrating all the relevant theory and existing research pertaining to the proposed research project.

Demonstrates Competency

Research proposal also helps to demonstrate competency in a particular area of study. It is also important that your research proposal convinces the reader that you have all the necessary skills to carry out the proposed study. This can be done by describing an appropriate and feasible research methodology.

To serve as a contract

Research often involves contracts between different individuals or groups or people. The proposal states clearly what each individual party is expected to do, how resources will be used and when the research will be completed.

To Serve as a Planning Tool

Many research projects fail because they are not properly planned. When there is a clear plan of action from the beginning the research is much more likely to proceed smoothly and will be successful. Finally, it may be concluded that because the main purpose of the research proposal  is to convince other people, it is important that the writing style must be simple, clear and professional.

Content of a Research Proposal

What goes into a research proposal is the most crucial and important aspect of any research proposal. As a fact there is no single format for a research proposal. This is because every research project is different. Different disciplines, funding organization and academic institutions all have different formats and requirements. However, there are several key components which must be included in every research proposal.

The key component for any research proposal are; i) A description of a research problem, ii) An argument as to why that problem is important, iii) A review of literature relevant to the research problem, iv) A description of the proposed research methodology, v) Priority and scheduling of various research activities, vi) Detailed budget description for the proposed research study and vii) An explanation on the limitation of the study.

Description of a Research Problem

Before the proposal can make a sense to a reader, he or she must understand clearly what the proposed research study will be about. Therefore, it is important to explain clearly in the initial paragraphs of the proposal what does the research proposal actually means. Say for example if the proposed research problem is “Impact of hydropower dams on vegetation growth – with special reference to ‘A’ and ‘B’ dam projects”. Now in the introductory paragraph of the proposed research proposal this problem has to be defined as “ By comparing the satellite imagery for pre dam construction and post dam construction of downstream area of ‘A’ and ‘B’ dam sites it has been noticed that there is considerable increase in the growth of vegetation. In the present research study it is intended to study why and how this increase in vegetation growth has occurred. What are the various factors which has influenced  this increase in vegetation growth”.

It is also important to mention that by what means this research problem has been identified. Is it your observation or it has a practical concern, mention clearly while describing the research problem.

Why the Proposed Research is Important

Importance or the usefulness of the proposed study is the key paragraph in any research proposal. Only through this paragraph a researcher attempt to convince the other researchers or the funding institutions that in what way this research is unique.

Some key points that can be mentioned in this paragraph are;
  • How the results and findings of the proposed study will be used for the betterment of concerned scientific concepts or how they may be utilized for the welfare of the society.
  • The results and findings may overcome the short comings or gaps in the existing theoretical concepts and analytical techniques.
  • If you are expecting other contributions from your proposed research study describe them in detail.
Literature Review

The literature review presents one of the greatest challenges of the research proposal to experienced and inexperienced researchers. The literature review provides a conceptual framework for the reader so that the research problem and methodology of the proposed research is better understood.

The literature review demonstrates to the expert  reader that the researcher is aware of the breadth and diversity of literature that relates to the research problem.

It is important that a researcher provides an integrated overview of the proposed problem. For this the researcher has to show the awareness of the most important and relevant theories, studies and methodologies. The researcher has to show that how these are related to the proposed study and how these works are similar to and/or different from the proposed research.

The literature review is not simply a list or summary of books and articles that the researcher has read. Instead, it has to be combined and synthesized in an integrated description of the field of study.  A good literature review shows how the text compiled from various books and articles relate to the broad topic. It also demonstrates to the expert reader that a researcher have surveyed much of the appropriate literature. A good literature review also demonstrates that for the proposed study different approaches will be used and in combination will produce an original study. Literature review is a systematic study and needs a thorough study of the relevant study material.
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The literature review has to be structured as per the following points;
  • Identification of relevant books, journals, reports related to your proposed research topic.
  • What results the previous researchers have produced.
  • What theoretical concepts or analytical techniques relate to the proposed study. Describe these in detail.
  • What methodologies were used by the previous researchers. If you are going to adopt one of these methodology for the proposed research explain it in detail.
  • What is the most recent finding related to the proposed study.
  • What gaps and contradictions exists among these findings. What new research problem do these findings suggest.
It is important to structure your literature review for the better understanding and the continuity of concepts. Do not start writing your literature review until you have developed a broad and deep understanding of the proposed research topic.


The methodology section of the research proposal is the second component which often causes great difficulty. As such there is no standard methodology to perform research in sciences. For each discipline and specific research problem these methodologies will differ. The methodology section of the research proposal is designed to explain the expert readers precisely that how you intend to find the solution for the proposed objectives of the research study. In this section a researcher has to put enough details so that the reader will understand precisely that how actually you are going to perform the research. Though the methodologies to be followed for the proposed research in geology are study specific but, broadly it comprises three basic components;
  • Data collection - Primary data collection from field and Secondary data collection
  • Data analysis and synthesis
  • Interpretation and results
Priority and Scheduling of various research activities

Another important component of a research proposal is to describe the priority and scheduling of the various activities for the proposed research. For any research it is important that each research activity is performed as per its priority. The priority of various research activities to be taken up as per their order of importance has already been discussed in Chapter I. In the research proposal one must describe briefly the priority of various research activities to be taken up under the proposed research study. Further, for any research project it is important to schedule all the activities in such a way that the research project is completed within the allotted time. Therefore, it is important to present a activity schedule chart in the research proposal.

Detailed Project Budget

A research proposal must include a detailed project budget. Amounts budgeted must be realistic and up to date. It is good to check before submitting that what kind of costs are acceptable to the funding institution. For a good project budget it is essential to give full breakup of each individual activity to be covered in a proposed research study. The detailed budget must be presented in a tabular format in which the various activities may be kept in rows and the budget component in columns. For each activity sub total must be presented. Amount to be mentioned should be in round figures. Always keep 10 – 15% extra budget for unforeseen expenses. 

Limitation of the Study

Every research study has to undergo some form of limitations. These limitations may be on resources or it may be theoretical. Therefore, it is always good to indicate such limitations in the research proposal. Never mention limitations on time and finance in a research proposal.

Ethics in Proposal Writing

Writing and style makes a research proposal impressive and convincing. Writing is a difficult skill to master and it comes through practice and dedication. However, some important tips to help for better writing are mentioned below;
  • Always structure the work in advance.
  • Know what you want to say before trying to write it.
  • Every sentence must contain one idea only.
  • There must be a continuity in sentences. A well written text is a “chain of ideas”.
  • While writing keep your reader’s need in mind. This means provide a “verbal map” of your document so that your reader know what to expect. Also plase “verbal signposts” in your text to explain what is coming next.
Besides a researcher must concentrate on the style of proposal presentation. Some important tips on style of presentation are given hereunder;
  • Proposal must be professional looking.
  • It must be interesting and informative.
  • Writing style must be simple with small sentences and simple vocabulary.
  • A content page must be included in a proposal.
  • Use clear headings and sub-headings.
  • While writing proposal be concise and precise.
  • Use simple language.
  • Construct clear arguments.
  • There should not be any spelling and grammatical mistakes in the proposal.
  • Reference your work fully using an acceptable format.
  • Do not use such words for which you are not sure for their meaning.
  • Do not use difficult words to impress your readers.
  • Do not use overly simplistic language.
  • Do not make unnecessary repetitions in the text.
Submitting the Proposal   

Fatigue and impatience can ruin the research proposal. Therefore, it is expected that a researcher must spent a little more time making sure that the proposal is perfect before submitting it. Also make sure that before submission the following steps are completed;
  • Proof read the proposal carefully.
  • Ask a friend or relative to read your proposal.
  • Ask an experienced researcher or your supervisor/ advisor to read the proposal.
  • Ensure that your proposal meet all the requirements laid down for the research proposal by the funding organization/ institution to which the proposal has to be submitted.
  • Submit the proposal with a covering letter to the contact person and address, before the last date of submission fixed by the funding organization/ institution.