Research Proposals

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Research proposals make an argument about why the research you want to conduct is significant and deserves funding. They back this argument up by providing evidence, and they are written for audiences that may hold alternative viewpoints and raise potential complications.

The purpose of a research proposal is threefold:

To explain the need for this research to be undertaken, to provide a clear plan for accomplishing the research, to demonstrate your qualifications as a researcher

Basic Structure: 

Most research proposals will follow a basic structure:

Title: Usually short (around 10-15 words), accurate, and clear. Uses appropriate keywords and avoids acronyms and technical jargon.


  • “Advancing Engineering Education through Virtual Communities of Practice”
  • “Backlash and Admiration from Racial In-Groups as a Result of Counter-Stereotypical Success”

Introduction: Makes a “pitch” and gets the reader excited about your topic. The length is often about 1-3 paragraphs, and it will briefly answer the following:

  • What is the central research problem?
  • What is the topic of study related to that problem?
  • What methods will be used to analyze the problem?
  • Why should someone care about the potential outcomes of the study?

Background: This section makes clear what the research problem is and what has been accomplished in this area. It also provides evidence of your competence in this field and demonstrates why previous work needs to be continued. Should answer the following:

  • What key concepts or terms do readers need to understand this research problem?
  • What are key texts or studies about this research problem? What is the current state of scholarship on this research problem?
  • How does the present study builds on the prior research? (e.g., new directions, addressing flaws, filling in gaps, etc.)

Research Methodology: Provides a research design that allows readers to understand how you will answer your research question(s) in a realistic timeline. Should answer the following:

  • What type of study is this?
  • How will you collect data?
  • What is the timeline for carrying out your research?
  • How will you make sense of your data?
  • Do you have the technical expertise to carry out these procedures?

Budget: Identifies anticipated costs for everything that will be needed to complete the project, usually in table form. This table usually includes the item, cost per item, a justification, and total cost. Common categories include:

  • Travel, equipment, supplies, professional services, payment to research subjects

Qualifications (optional): This section shows that you’re the right person to conduct this research. Should answer the following:

  • What are your related skills and experiences?
  • If you don’t have a necessary skill, how will you get it?
  • How will this project help you meet your academic or professional goals?

Conclusion (optional): In one or two paragraphs, this section reiterates the importance of your research and briefly summarizes the study.​ Can briefly answer the following: 

  • Why should this study be conducted?
  • What are the main implications of the study?

References: Cite your sources in a standard format that follows your discipline’s conventions. This section typically doesn’t count toward the total page length of your proposal.

Getting Started:

Begin by identifying your research problem and research objectives:

What do I want to study?​ Why is the topic important?​ What problems will it help solve?​ How does it build upon prior research?​ What should I plan to do, and can I get it done in the time available?​

Expect to work through several drafts of your proposal, with several rounds of feedback from friends, faculty mentors, Writers Workshop consultants, etc.

Overcome writer’s block:

Give yourself time to revise. You can ask yourself:

  • Does my project feel too big? (scope)
  • Do the different sections of my proposal match? (coherence)
  • Am I likely to accomplish my sequence of proposed actions in the allotted time? (feasibility)
  • Is the proposal detailed yet concise? (precision and clarity)

The Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research is another great resource for undergraduates looking to learn to conduct disciplinary research. ​The Library also has information for researchers.

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