Step 5: Writing Your Research Proposal

Your research proposal is your opportunity to clearly map out how you’d like your research project to take place. By having a clear map of your research project you can be confident of staying on track in the coming weeks and months. Your research proposal differs from a simple research plan because it goes beyond merely providing a road map to being the document you’ll use to persuade someone, usually your manager or potential funder, of the value of investing time and money in your research project.

No two proposals are the same though they are likely to contain similar elements. Your research proposal will typically have the following structure:

  • Title: Your title should aim to be clear, concise and indicative of your research project’s purpose.
  • Abstract: Your abstract needs to give an overall impression of your project, it’s aims and objective, etc. This is the first thing that will people will read but is likely to be the last thing you write, once you know what you’ve written in the other sections of your proposal.
  • Background: This is where you present your review of the literature (Step 2) and explain how your project will contribute to the evidence base.
  • Aims and Objectives: These should clearly link to your research question (Step 1). Your aim will be a high-level statement of what you plan to explore, while your objectives will be focused questions that address different aspects of your aim.
  • Research Design (Step 3): This is your opportunity to outline whether you’re undertaking a qualitative, quantitative or mixed method research project, the research methods you’re planning to use to collect your data, and your data collection (Step 7), data analysis (Step 8) and how you plan to disseminate your findings (Step 9). Details of your sampling strategy and data management also appear here.
  • Ethics (Step 6): If you’re research involves people you’ll almost certainly need to seek ethical approval. Key ethical issues to address include anonymity and confidentiality.
  • Project Timeline: You’ll need to develop a realistic and achievable timeline for your research project, calculating how long you’ll need to complete each stage of your project. Remember, you don’t need to wait for one part of your project to be finished before you start the next stage; some part of your research can happen concurrently e.g. reviewing your literature (Step 2) while awaiting your ethical approval (Step 6). A Gantt chart can be helpful in planning your timeline.
  • Project Outputs & Outcomes: This section of your proposal can give funders (and managers) can be very persuasive for funders and managers. This is where you indicate what tangible outputs your research project is likely to have e.g. disseminating your findings (Step 9) at a conference or writing for a journal article. Outcomes can be harder to define but could include, for examples, things such as greater staff awareness of library services or improving libraries services.
  • Project Costs: Costs will vary depending on the size of your project but things to consider include: wages, equipment, training, travel and dissemination.
  • References: Any resources referred to in your research proposal should be included in the list of references. If you’re applying for funding be sure to follow the funders preferred reference style.
  • Appendices: This is where you can include supplementary information such as your questionnaire or interview schedule.

Preparing Your Research Proposal

When writing your research proposal it is important to consider who will be reading it and determining it’s suitability for funding; this may include members of the public or lay members of boards or committees. Aim to write clearly and succinctly and, if available, refer to the funder information for guidance on the specific requirements of their funding application process (Step 4).

  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). (2020). Making a strong application. Although primarily focused at applications to the NIHR, this web site provides detailed advice on how to plan and develop your research application.

Sponsor Issues

Research undertaken within the NHS must adhere to the Health Research Authority policy framework for health and social care research. Your local R&D Lead will be able to provide further guidance on working within this framework.

Suggested Reading

Next Steps

Now that you’ve prepared your research proposal it’s time to obtain ethical and trust approval (Step 6).