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10 Steps to Writing an Academic Research Proposal

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This article 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 Sample Size and 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 Data Collection and Data Analysis Procedures

The last section highlighted in this article 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.

Questions & Answers

Question: I want to do research on the sources of errors in the writing of senior high school students. How should I go on with the writing of my proposal?

Answer: Is your research project for the purpose of finishing a university degree or for personal interest? What do you mean by "sources of errors? Student apathy, bad instruction, socioeconomic situation?


Adobea Afari-Bekoe on August 23, 2020:

Please I am researching on assessing the standard based curriculum, can you help with any useful material or information

Hailay on July 03, 2020:

Thank you for sharing vivid points in proposal preparation.

Isaac,Ghana on February 09, 2020:

very exciting and educative

Annabel mwiza..Zambia on January 26, 2020:

great insight on the subject

ELIJAH OGOTI OMBONGI PhD student Kenyatta University Nairobi, Kenya. on January 08, 2020:

excellent insights for pursuing research in PhD. Thank you.

rose on November 28, 2019:

perfecto,thank you

victor gondo on November 14, 2019:

what a helpful article thank you

Sam Kamau (Kenya) on October 23, 2019:

Thanks a lot. Very helpful.

Abdel-aziz M. from AddisAbaba University on October 21, 2019:

thank you

Sarah on October 19, 2019:

Quite helpful on October 14, 2019:

nice one thanks

Aremu A.A on October 10, 2019:

Thanks for the impartation.

normahahmad1961 on October 07, 2019:

a very good illustration of writing a research proposal and it helps and guides newcomers in proposing their research study.

Gbemisola on September 10, 2019:

Very helpfull

ben kemboi on September 04, 2019:

am so grateful

franese Victoe on August 01, 2019:

Thanks it was really helpful

Fredricka on May 27, 2019:

Thank you am just starting with mine and the topic is high labour turnover in hospitality indusrty in Namibia and am focusing on a specific restaurant what do you think?

violet on May 14, 2019:

thank you its helpful to me

lubuye stephen on April 26, 2019:

Helpful staff. Thank you

Bertha Lunyungu on April 14, 2019:

well, your page has absolutely satisfied my need. thank you for the education, it is very useful for the beginners on how to write academic research reports.

ISAAC OSEI AGYEI on April 11, 2019:

Very insightful article for beginners

Kindly include How to write PLAN OF WORK

Md. Nazrul Islam, Bangladesh on March 11, 2019:

Excellent for the beginners of academic researchers. be more helpful attaching an example.

takia mubiru on February 13, 2019:

it was very educational and helpful thank u

Erra Asha jyothi. on January 18, 2019:

It's a good one..quite educative..Thank you..

Kiprotich Kiprotich on December 08, 2018:

Educative, thank you

SIMON ADYEERI IN UGANDA on November 09, 2018:


Mwangi kihoro on November 05, 2018:

quite good and educative summary for academics

Mr. Benson on October 16, 2018:

This was so helpful to me and I believe you will continue the good job. Thank you so much.

ivan on September 28, 2018:

would you please give some sample on the topic below.


Gideon on September 08, 2018:

hi, i'm a forth year student UEW and this is my first time to start writing a research proposal. plz, kindling help me in way of the topic i have choose, thus The effect of Galamsey (small scale mining) on human life.

Charles Chan, Student Bugema University, Africa on August 26, 2018:

I was really so delighted and much excited to come across this link. it has helped me a lot by explicitly explaining the ten steps of research proposal. However, I would like to more on identifying the gap on the literature review.


I appreciate your contributions, provision and hard work. It is my first time to read your web sites articles and I wish I will be one of the author in nearest future. God bless with more knowledge.

Ngah1992 on May 19, 2018:

Good day from here. Thanks for this wonderful insight about a research.

The topic on which I'm working, at the BachelorsDegree level, focuses on " contrasting my vernacular’ and English: A focus on Tense formation and Usage amongst students from my tribe’, and consequent impact on L2 acquisition." Approaching this is a problem, I do not know whether it could be possible i have a guide on this, please. on February 19, 2018:

very clear

Noor on February 10, 2018:


MAHAMA on November 12, 2017:

I am, very happy to find you here. I will be happy if you could allow me to join you group thank you very much.

Sambo Justice on October 23, 2017:

international Step on proposal please

Pandurang shinde on October 13, 2017:


KUNDANANJI SILWENGA on September 14, 2017:

am a student at the university of barotseland in Zambia. am in my fourth year and am told to submit my research proposal hence am failing to come up with one. the steps i know them but what to include at each stage is where am facing some challenges kindly assist

adnan khan on September 10, 2017:

i am a student of ir sir plz help me for to mak a research proposal

Umar Farouk Ishaq on August 28, 2017:

That is a very good write up. I used it for my proposal and it worked though if wasn't easy but i never quit. Thanks for the write up.

Prof.Manoj Dnyanaba Mate on August 28, 2017:

Really very nice information you provided to me. Before this reading I was not familiar about the how to frame the research proposal. Thanks once again.

Fantastic on August 26, 2017:


abdulruma on August 05, 2017:

Pls can u help me with a sample of research proposal?

Abid on June 07, 2017:

Thanks for help

Sasha on April 16, 2017:

Pls can u give an example on an essay abt this whole research procedure am soo confused on how to go about it. Thank you

Paula Ejiro on April 15, 2017:

Hi, this is very helpful. Thanks alot

TSE Akakposu on March 19, 2017:

Now using but hoping that would be very useful...because of it elaborations.

Sulaiman Rofiat on March 18, 2017:

Thank its helpful. But the question is that is it limited to a particular department?

Choongo Makala Nebert on March 11, 2017:

Great Hub

JIHAD on February 13, 2017:

Hello every body,

I need some body to help me to write a proposal about English literature.

Waddah on January 26, 2017:

Very good summary I like it because it all information that I already studied but summerize it easy manner

adeyanju isaiah ifeoluwa on January 16, 2017:

nice one, thanks.

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on December 05, 2016:

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.

abubaker jibril on December 03, 2016:

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

Fahad on September 04, 2016:


sadamu mashaka on July 29, 2016:

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 ........

laila on May 22, 2016:

thanks a bunch.

sana on May 22, 2016:

no comments

prasenjit barik on February 20, 2016:

warm regards sir,

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on August 26, 2015:

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

Ema on August 25, 2015:

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.

philly khumalo on August 19, 2015:

thanks it interesting

yachilariye on May 14, 2015:

I am really thanks you so much.

Eddie Himans on May 13, 2015:

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


Shah Khalid Safi on February 02, 2015:

Easy and and interesting

afetu on January 20, 2015:

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

nada jawad on January 12, 2015:

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

Fredrick on February 17, 2014:

Great, it is productive

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on May 06, 2013:

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

Dominic Barasa on May 06, 2013:

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

pfariso on February 21, 2013:

good work

deepa on February 04, 2013:

thanks hub, you really help me

Emmanuel on December 26, 2012:

This is good

wako ethiopia on December 02, 2012:

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

Godwin udo on June 19, 2012:

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

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on May 30, 2012:

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

dr salman on May 30, 2012:

good work

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on May 19, 2012:

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

sam on May 19, 2012:

thanx for the infor it is indeed helpful to us

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on May 09, 2012:

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

Eric on April 19, 2012:

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.

Agiriga Enyinnaya on April 18, 2012:

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

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on April 18, 2012:

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

GRACE on April 18, 2012:

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

Reve from Dhaka on March 22, 2012:

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.

Lee on March 21, 2012:

Please help

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

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on March 20, 2012:

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.

Reve from Dhaka on March 20, 2012:

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 (author) from Corona, California on March 14, 2012:

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

tito khatiwada on March 13, 2012:

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

rupali on March 06, 2012:

thanks alotttttttt

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on March 05, 2012:

Thank you htodd, I appreciate the encouraging feedback.

htodd from United States on February 26, 2012:

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

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on January 29, 2012:

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

eliztsungie on January 28, 2012:

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!

John Songu on December 02, 2011:

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

patnkellee on November 23, 2011:

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?

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on November 13, 2011:

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

ebadullah on November 13, 2011:

thanks ecoggins, helped me in writing my own research proposal