How To Write A Research Proposal Outline In A Few Steps

18 Jul 2023


We all have our pet subjects. For some it may be history or political science, for others, biology or pharmacology. No matter the subject, as you deepen your knowledge you may come across gaps that need to be further explored. Your thoughts start envisioning what may await down this path and how you plan to tackle it. Then it hits you. How are you going to get your project approved? Sure you may have written a research paper before, but do you know how to write a research proposal?

As you climb the academic ladder your tasks will grow in complexity. Long gone are the days of a simple 5 paragraph essay. Your professors will start demanding a structured topic proposal before you can embark on your studies.

What Is A Research Proposal?

This assignment summarizes what you plan to study as well as what your final paper will include. It demonstrates your understanding of the subject matter and highlights your abilities to expand upon current knowledge. For this reason, you should include the current state of knowledge as well as any areas you plan to develop. While this paper is not as developed as your final project, it is vital to give it the proper attention to ensure your university approves your proposal.

Why Is It Important To Have A Research Plan?

You may find yourself asking what is the purpose of a research proposal. Many researchers often stress over this assignment. Perhaps you have a pet subject you want to work on. Or you have an authoritarian lecturer. Whatever the case, getting your project the go ahead revolves around this important assignment. As you formulate how you’d like to make your mark, are you stuck with your paper proposal? For sure you’re not alone. The future of your project hinges on this one task. A well put together text will get approved. Then you can hit the ground running.

Sure it may seem redundant but this is an important step not to overlook. A half backed plan will get rejected and you’ll be back to square one. Working with the sciences it is important to identify what you plan to do, how you will carry out your work, and most important, why the work should be done. With a proper research plan you answer these questions and demonstrate your ability to organize your efforts to obtain a set goal. An effective proposal will also generate interest in your topic. This is quite useful if your scientific proposal is resource intensive and you need to procure many resources for your work. Take a look at some creative writing ideas to wow your university and make your paper shine with enthusiasm.

Research Paper Proposal Format

Like many things in life, it’s not always what you do but how you do it. Academic work is no different and demands consistency. This ensures your peers can easily scan through your proposal paper and reference it according to your field’s standards. Let’s examine a few popular formats you’re likely to come across with academic writing.


The American Psychological Association governs this format. The primary difference here is the inclusion of a running head at the top of each page. You’ll enjoy the flexibility of using “any legible font”, although a 12pt Times New Roman is default. One of the reasons APA is used is its focus on when research was conducted – hence the reasons behind the citation format. Currently this citation style is in its sixth edition and many tips for adhering to the style are available online.


When writing in the humanities, you are likely to use this style from the Modern Language Association. In subjects such as literature, works are often considered timeless and when they were published is typically not important. This format is similar to APA style but differs in a few notable areas. The MLA format has a “works cited” section at the end, doesn’t require a running head, and in-line citations are formatted differently. Also take note MLA does not require a title page so be sure to check with your teacher if you should include one.


Chicago style makes use of footnotes and can be a bit tricky because there are two methods of using it. To ensure the best results, check with your supervisors to see when they prefer the author date method vs. the notes and bibliography style. This will ensure your research topic proposal is considered seriously.

How To Write A Research Proposal

So now we get into the nuts and bolts of how to put together your academic proposal. We’ve answered some common questions students have. From how to choose a topic for a research paper to asking the right proposal questions you’re sure to find the answers you need to clear up any confusion.

How Long Should A Research Proposal Be?

In short, however long it needs to be. A lot depends on your discipline, your academic level, and your university’s formatting guidelines. A Ph.D. level proposal will have a much larger scope and need to cover more details while an undergrad paper can just give a basic overview. But a typical paper for a dissertation is 10 academic pages (2,500 words double spaced) while an undergrad proposal could be as little as 3 pages.

How To Write A Research Proposal Outline?

Below we’ve included a template to give you a visual representation of how to organize your work. Your outline should roughly follow this format starting with the title and working through the sections. Fill in the main sections with sub-categories that will strengthen your case to go forward with your work. Be sure to format your outline according to the assigned citation style and include it with your proposal paper if required. Our description of the various citation styles should be helpful.

How To Start A College Proposal Paper?

The best remedy to get your ideas flowing is to brainstorm some topic ideas. Grab a blank sheet of paper and start writing down action words for areas you wish to pursue. You can then build word associations on the topic to further develop how your work will unfold. For less obscure subjects you can ask friends what they think of certain ideas to see if your topic will have public interest. Once you have a strong topic and develop a hypothesis you are ready to go.

What To Include In A Proposal?

Be relevant and be logical. You want your text to be quick and to the point. Save expansive explanations for your actual paper and only include necessary information that will come together in your final text. Here is a brief list of what to include:

  • Introduction: Generate interest and make your hypothesis and thesis statement.
  • Background: This answers the “why” in your paper. State where science is currently and any knowledge gaps you intend to explore.
  • Literature Review: List off any important references you plan to use in your research. Indicate the original author’s findings as well as any questions that remain open from their research.
  • Methods: Detail the process you’ll conduct your research. Be detailed enough that another researcher can duplicate your work so they can accurately compare their results with their own.
  • Conclusion: Restate the importance of your proposal and why it is beneficial for the scientific community. Leave an impact that will give the reader more to think about after reading your proposal.

How To Write Methodology In Research Proposal

The methodology section in the proposal is of special importance because the work has not yet been done. Unless you like redoing assignments, you’ll need to give a strong case that demonstrates your analysis is on target and your work will produce relevant results. Be specific in the objectives of your methods and how you will carry them out.

Research Proposal Conclusion

The conclusion is another section students often neglect so be sure to get it right. This section sells your entire proposal. Highlight key points and restate why the work is important. Be sure to give the reader something to think about when they put your paper down.

Research Proposal Ideas

Ideas for research are as endless as the universe itself. Feel free to expand into unknown territory but be sure there is a basis to start your work. The last thing you want is a thinly investigated subject where you have little to work with. Here are a few ideas to prime the pump.


  • Cluster B Personality Disorders in the Work Environment
  • How Children Overcome Phobias
  • How Physical Appearance Affects Self Esteem in Women
  • Workaholics: Productive Motivation or an Escape


  • How GMO in a Diet Affects Physiology
  • Stem Cells and Developments in Curing Cancer
  • Environmental Factors Related to Genetic Mutation
  • Risks and Benefits of Vaccinations

Information Technology

  • Developing AI for the Workplace
  • Blockchains for Data Integrity
  • Virtual Reality in Education
  • Applications of Quantum Computer Technology

Research Proposal Template + Example

  1. Introduction
    1. Short, concise, and on target
  2. Aims and Objectives
    1. Questions you’ll answer
    2. What you’ll achieve
  3. Relevance of Research
    1. Why your work is important
    2. State of current knowledge
  4. Literature Review
    1. Works relevant to your research with summary of
  5. Methodology
    1. List of experience you’ll make and how you’ll conduct them
  6. Expected Results
    1. Your hypothesis of what you’ll find
  7. Conclusion
    1. Restate key points of your work
    2. State the results

Working in the sciences can be highly rewarding but much work comes along with it. Follow this guide and get your project off the ground with an effective proposal. If you are ever stuck, reach out to our professional writers and get a high quality proposal so you can dive into your pet subjects.

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