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10 Steps to Writing an Academic Research Proposal

Updated on May 10, 2016

Joined: 7 years agoFollowers: 655Articles: 198

This hub discusses some of the common elements in a research proposal. Whether you are doing quantitative or qualitative research, it is important that you outline the reasons why you propose doing the study and what process or procedures you will follow to complete the proposed study.

Some of the important parts of a good quantitative or qualitative research proposal include:

  1. Determining the general topic;
  2. Performing a Literature review on the topic;
  3. Identifying a gap in the literature;
  4. Identifying a problem highlighted by the gap in the literature and framing a purpose for the study;
  5. Writing an Introduction to the study;
  6. Framing research hypotheses and or research questions to investigate or guide the study;
  7. Determine the method of investigation
  8. Outline the research design
  9. Define the Sample size and the characteristics of the proposed sample;
  10. Describe the procedures to follow for data collection and data analyses.

Determine a General Topic

The first step in writing an academic research proposal is to idenitfy a general topic or subject area to investigate. Usually this first point is the easiest because the research proposal will be tied to the overall theme of a course. In such a case, the the general subject for investigation is normally determined by a professor who is leading the class, the school's department chair, or academic advisory committee.

Perform a Literature Review

The next step is to read as much literature on the general subject matter as time will allow. While you read the literature it is advised to take copious notes and then summarize the purpose and findings of each study relevant to the general subject matter of the eventual research proposal.

Identify a Gap in the Literature

The general purpose of the literature review is not to have notes on a whole bunch of different journal articles and books on a particular subject. The purpose is to understand what studies have already been done on the subject and then to identify any glaring gaps in the literature. Identifying gaps in the literature will open up opportunities to add to the body of knowledge within the general subject area.

For instance, both Kimura and Coggins found that servant leadership is actively admired and taught in the Cambodian Christian community which makes up only a small percentage of the Cambodian population. However, no one has yet investigated attitudes towards servant leadership in the non-Christian Cambodian community which makes up over 90% of the population. This is an obvious gap in the literature.

Identify a Problem and Frame a Purpose Statement

After you have performed the literature review and hopefully identified an obvious gap in the literature, next you need to identify a problem related to the gap and frame a purpose statement as to why you are investigating what you propose and why other should care about the study. If your readers cannot answer the question so what? Or your answer the question why should I care? Then it may be interesting to you, but not relevant to anyone else. 

Write an Introduction

After you have identified a pertinent problem and framed a purpose statement, then you need to craft an introduction. Among other things, the introduction to the proposal will include

  • The Problem Statement
  • A brief summary of the literature
  • A brief description of the gap in the literature
  • A Purpose statement as to why you are proposing the study and why others should care about the subject matter tied to your research proposal.

Determine Research Hypotheses and or Reseach Questions

Next, you need to identify and craft carefully defined research hypotheses and or research questions. Research hypotheses identify what you are actually going to investigate and what you expect to find from your research study. Research hypotheses are normally found in quantitative research proposals which compare differences and/or relationships between independent variables (or causes of phenomena) and dependent variables (or the effects that result from causes). Research questions are normally found in qualitative research studies. Most importantly, in good academic writing, research hypotheses and questions must be informed or flow from the literature review.

Determine the Method of Investigation

The method section is the second of the two main parts of the research proposal. In good academic writing it is important to include a method section that outlines the procedures you will follow to complete your proposed study. The method section generally includes sections on the following:

  • Research design;
  • Sample size and characteristics of the proposed sample;
  • Data collection and data analysis procedures

Determine the Research Design

The next step in good academic writing is to outline the research design of the research proposal. For each part of the design, it is highly advised that you describe two or three possible alternatives and then tell why you propose the particular design you chose. For instance, you might describe the differences between experimental, quasi-experimental, and non-experimental designs before you elaborate on why you propose a non-experimental design.

Determine the Sample Size and the Characteristics of the Sample

In this section of your research proposal, you will describe the sample size and the characteristics of the participants in the sample size. Describe how you determined how many people to include in the study and what attributes they have which make them uniquely suitable for the study.

Determine the Data Collection and Data Analysis Procedures

The last section highlighted in this hub is the data collection and analysis procedures. In this section you will describe how you propose to collect your data e.g. through a questionnaire survey if you are performing a quantitative analysis or through one-on-one interviews if you are performing a qualitative or mixed methods study.

After you collect the data, you also need to follow a scheme as how to analyze the data and report the results. In a quantitative study you might run the data through Excel or better yet SPSS and if you are proposing a qualitative study you might use a certain computer program like ATLAi. to perform a narrative study or grounded theory study that exposes the main themes from the proposed interviews.


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    • minakay profile image

      The Rev. Kelechi Timothy Francis 6 years ago from Rivers State, Nigeria

      Great Hub. Thanks.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 5 years ago from Corona, California

      mokaleli, glad to be of service. All the best to you.

    • ayra 5 years ago

      thank you for brief outline, it really helps. Ayra

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 5 years ago from Corona, California

      Ayra, your welcome. I am glad I could help.

    • Ndpak 5 years ago

      Thanks, helped my exam papers

    • Sample Proposals 5 years ago

      Framing research hypotheses explained smoothly. I did a small research on and got good results. Thanks for the supportive Hub !


    • Sisanda 5 years ago

      Hi Hub I just want to say thank you,it realy helped on my assignment,but what I do not understand is the background of the study can you please elaborate it for me.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 5 years ago from Corona, California

      Hi Sisanda, thank you for your encouraging feedback. I am not sure what you mean about "not understanding the background of the study." If you are asking about investigating the back ground of a study that you want to do, then that is what the literature review section is for. If you are asking about the background of this hub, then most of the ideas came from two books and tutelage from my professors including John Creswell's book Research Design and Kerlinger and Lee's book Foundations of Behavioral Research.

    • John Bosco 5 years ago

      Hello Hub, thank you for the great information that is most likely to help is. I am soon starting my reaseach work and will soon be required to present a proposal plus a dissertation. I hope to base on your information to develop my research study. Thank you!

    • Baserock 5 years ago

      Thank you for your educative hub.You can also access these services by following link

    • ebadullah 5 years ago

      thanks ecoggins, helped me in writing my own research proposal

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 5 years ago from Corona, California

      baserock and ebadullah, I am very happy you found this article helpful to you. All the best to you in everything.

    • patnkellee 5 years ago

      Great info. Is it always necessary to have a research hypothesis? What about in a quantitative comparative study. Will research purpose and question be enough to guide the study?

    • John Songu 5 years ago

      Tnx ecoggins. Am just seeing this write up but it has already relieved much work on my yet to be written dessertation proposal.

    • eliztsungie 4 years ago

      ecoggins, this is amazing i have been struggling to start my research proposal but i just came across this hub, and it summarises what i need to do - thanx!

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      eliztsungie, tahnk you for the encouraging comment. I am very glad that you this article helpful.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 4 years ago from United States

      These are really great points..Thanks for the nice hub

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      Thank you htodd, I appreciate the encouraging feedback.

    • rupali 4 years ago

      thanks alotttttttt

    • tito khatiwada 4 years ago

      u r great like sun to spread your light of knowledge thank u so much keep it up always

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      Thank you tito khatiwada I am glad this article was useful to you.

    • Reves-diary profile image

      Reve 4 years ago from Dhaka

      One of my friend is working with academic research proposal. She was telling me that, it is pretty damn tough to write academic research proposal. You need to focus on every possible aspect, check and recheck properly of all the available information.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      Reves-diary, Thank you for your input and thank you too for choosing to follow me. It looks like your choice to follow me took me to the 500 mark in total followers.

      Your friend is right; it is tough to write research proposals (especially good ones), at least on the first or second attempt. But, I found that once you get a formula down, then writing proposals becomes less demanding and time consuming.

      Of course, there are different types of research proposals, such as quantitative by which the researcher uses numeric surveys and numbers to tell the story or qualitative by much he or she may use actual interviews and words (either their own or others') to tell the story. Each type has a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, I think writing proposals eventually becomes second nature. Of course, that does not negate the need to spend ample time finding preceding literature on the subject.

    • Lee 4 years ago

      Please help

      I need to write a proposal letter for scholarship..please give me advice...

    • Reves-diary profile image

      Reve 4 years ago from Dhaka

      I guess you need to the respective topic first. Write a thesis proposal and submit to your supervisor. Then, the supervisor will ask for the respective topic that you prefer to make a research. I guess you should initially do that.

    • GRACE 4 years ago

      This hub is superb, it has helped me answer my assignment question; thanks a million.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      Grace, Thank you very much for sharing your comment. I am happy that you found the article useful. e.

    • Agiriga Enyinnaya 4 years ago

      Am very happy for seeing this, is just that am a little bit confused about identifying a proplem highlighted by the gap... And also determine the method of investigation. Please i am writing a proposal now i need your help... Thanks

    • Eric 4 years ago

      identifying a gap in the literature can be very time consuming. the idea is to find a part of the problem that has not yet been addressed or has not been addressed satisfactorily. basically it is isolating one small aspect of the problem and then researching and writing about that aspect. you do not need to address the whole problem just 1 small aspect of the problem. it is usually easier to address the part of the problem that you are most interested in.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      Ambi blessing, I am very happy that you found the article helpful.

    • sam 4 years ago

      thanx for the infor it is indeed helpful to us

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      sam, you're welcome; I'm glad I could help.

    • dr salman 4 years ago

      good work

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

      dr salman, thank you. I truly appreciate the encouraging feedback.

    • Godwin udo 4 years ago

      I want this answer. develop or formulate 2 research topic from each research formulat simple hypothesis and null hypothesis

    • wako ethiopia 4 years ago

      it is interesting to have such explanations online so please be good any to share your knowledge with other person

    • Emmanuel 4 years ago

      This is good

    • deepa 3 years ago

      thanks hub, you really help me

    • pfariso 3 years ago

      good work

    • Dominic Barasa 3 years ago

      I am glad for your effort towards educating the globe. I am happy for you.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 3 years ago from Corona, California

      Thank you Dominic. I appreciate the kind and encouraging feedback,

    • Fredrick 2 years ago

      Great, it is productive

    • nada jawad 2 years ago

      it.s really useful thank you . but i still have problems with my dissertation can you help me

    • afetu 2 years ago

      hi, it is good idea. i like doing the researh, again and again develop your idea.

    • Shah Khalid Safi 23 months ago

      Easy and and interesting

    • Eddie Himans 20 months ago

      Great work,preparing for an in pending exam going to be very useful


    • yachilariye 20 months ago

      I am really thanks you so much.

    • philly khumalo 17 months ago

      thanks it interesting

    • Ema 17 months ago

      Thanks for the exposition, a reminder of how things have to be done in academic writing. I`m quite interested in the ATLAi computer program mentioned in your write-up. How could one get access to it.

      All the best and remember to keep writing.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 17 months ago from Corona, California

      Hi Ema....ATLAs software can be found at

    • prasenjit barik 11 months ago

      warm regards sir,

    • sana 8 months ago

      no comments

    • laila 8 months ago

      thanks a bunch.

    • sadamu mashaka 5 months ago

      Hellow... i hav a question about sample size, if you want to use secondary data, is it neccessary to write sampling technique,sample size, reseach instrument and ........

    • Fahad 4 months ago


    • vololo 4 months ago

      ko mascholars ka nhai vaECCOGINS

    • abubaker jibril 7 weeks ago

      thank you my dear brother I got many concept from what you write here but I did not understand how to use the spss can you help me please

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 6 weeks ago from Corona, California

      Thank you Abubaker Jibril for your excellent question. SPSS is a program that is used to conduct statistical analysis for quantitative studies. In order to use it, you have to purchase a license from the software company. If you already own a license, then there are excellent tutorials on youtube that demonstrate how to use it.

    • adeyanju isaiah ifeoluwa 5 days ago

      nice one, thanks.

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