Research Proposal

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May 25, 2019
July 9, 2019

Research Proposal Quicklinks

  1. What is a Research Proposal
  2. Research Proposal Outline
    1. Introduction
    2. Background and Significance
    3. Literature Review
    4. Research Design and Methodology
    5. Study Implications
    6. Conclusion
    7. Citations
    8. Appendix

What is a Research Proposal

A research proposal provides a well organized and comprehensive summary of the research an individual intends to do. It aims at setting out the central issues or questions that the researcher intends to address.

A research proposal is a document that outlines the general area of study of the research and refers to what is known in the current state and the emerging topics of debate in a particular field.

what is a research proposal

what is a research proposal

Additionally, a research proposal justifies the originality of particular research that a researcher intends to do.

Therefore, whether done for academic purposes, or for a particular organization, a research proposal presents a good way for an individual to demonstrate their expertise in a specified area of study.

Writing a research proposal indicates that a person has the ability to organize complex ideas in a clear, concise and critical manner.

A research proposal is also a document that helps in soliciting for funding for research. No donor will issue funds without reviewing a research proposal. For education purposes, Writing research proposals help in finding and assigning specific supervisors based on the researcher’s field of study and interests.



The information on this page represents either of the above terms.

8 Sections of Research Proposal

When Writing a Research Proposal, the following sections MUST be included:

the title of a research proposal

the title of a research proposal

1. Introduction

In the evolving world with higher education, research proposals are being written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project.

Additionally, writing a Ph.D. research proposal is the first step in getting approval to write a doctoral dissertation. The introductory part of the project must explain the key idea to be addressed and ensure that all elements are covered.

An introduction plays the role of making the readers understand what a researcher wants to do and also get to learn and gauge the sense of passion for the academic proposal topic of the investigator. Furthermore, an introduction needs to present some form of excitement for the eventual result just from reading and understanding it.

It is good to note that most research proposals do not have an abstract before the introduction. An abstract comes after data has been collected, analyzed and findings are written and concluded.

the introduction of a research proposal

the introduction of a research proposal


An investigator needs to look at the introduction as a narrative written in two or more paragraphs with the aim of answering the following questions:

  1. What is the central research problem? The introduction should give an idea of the main research problem.
  2. One must address how the current topic is related to other parts of the study and how it will help to solve the problem in question? An introduction contains the academic proposal topic and a reader gets a glimpse of what the whole Ph.D. proposal and research will tackle.
  3. What methods should be used to analyze the research problem? A researcher gets an idea of which research methods to employ from the introductory part of the proposal.
  4. The researcher should also indicate why the study in question is important and how it will contribute to future studies in the world? An introduction will aim at answering these questions and give a reader the morale to continue reading the entire research proposal.

2. Background and Significance

This section can be part of the introduction or a researcher can create a separate section for significance and background. The aim of a separate section is to help in the narrative flow and organization of the research proposal. This section explains the context of the research proposal and describes in detail why the research problem identified is important. When writing this section, the researcher needs to note that the reader’s understanding is not assumed. The investigator must choose what is relevant to help explain the goals for the study.

The following key points must be addressed in this section;

  1. The researcher needs to state the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study.
  2. The investigator presents the rationale of the proposed study and clearly indicates why it is worth doing. The section needs to answer the “So what? Question, that is; why should anyone care.
  3. The researcher has to describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by the research. He or she should be sure to note how the proposed study builds on previous assumptions about the research problem.
  4. The researcher should explain how he or she plans to go about conducting the research. There needs to be clear identification of the key sources that will be used in the project.
  5. This section also sets the boundaries of the proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, the researcher needs to state not only what he or she will study, but what is excluded from the study.

Definitions of key terms and concepts can be provided under this section.

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3. Literature Review

The literature review is connected to the background and significance of the study. Moreover, this section is devoted to a more deliberate review and synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation. The purpose here is to place the research within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while the researcher demonstrates to readers that the work is original and innovative by giving citations and acknowledging the authors of consulted work.

The researcher needs to think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they have used, and what is his or her understanding of their findings and, where stated, their recommendations. The investigator should not be afraid to challenge the conclusions of prior research. Using the literature review, the researcher can identify the research gap. This is possible by analyzing the key points addressed by other studies.  Therefore, the investigator can assess what he or she believes is missing and state how previous research has failed to adequately examine the issue that his or her study addresses.

Conceptual categories generally reveal themselves after reading most of the pertinent literature on the academic proposal topic. Therefore, adding new categories is an on-going process of discovery as the researcher reads more studies, the more categories he or she comes up with. A researcher can have confidence that all categories have been covered if he or she sees repetitions in conclusions and recommendations.

The five Cs to writing a literature review are;

  1. One should ensure that enough citation is provided to avoid plagiarism challenges.
  2. Comparison of various methods and procedures used by various researchers is also important
  3. The researcher should also consider the contrasting arguments to understand what others agree and disagree with in relation to the problem in question.
  4. One of the important aspects is providing a clear review of the literature. The researcher need to pay attention to the verbs he or she uses to describe what an author says or does e.g., asserts, demonstrates, and argues, just to mention a few.
  5. The findings gathered within previous literature should be applied in the current review as well especially through proper analysis and synthesis’s of the study findings

4. Research Design and Methodology

The researcher needs to pay greater attention to this section. It must be well-written and logically organized. The researcher must select accurate and correct methodologies to promote the reliability and validity of the study. Effective research design, the population of study and sampling methods should be adopted by the researcher. Appropriate methods make it easier to analyze and interpret the study findings later. The research design and methods an investigator chooses should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of the study.

An investigator can describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from the literature review. It is imperative that the researcher consider the integration of past methods based on the study topic.

Furthermore, he or she should be specific about the methodological approaches he or she plans to undertake to obtain information, the techniques to use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which to commit, that is; the trustworthiness by which the researcher can generalize from the study to other people, places, events, and/or periods of time.

Research designs in research proposals

Research designs in Ph.D. proposals

When describing the methods to be used, the researcher needs to cover the following:

  1. The researcher must indicate the correct methods or procedures he will use in the data analysis and data collection stage. This may include the provision of the coding method, the data reporting style. In most cases, the qualitative data is analyzed through content analysis and the findings may be presented in table, graphs, and pie-charts for easier review by the readers. One should also consider that some of the methods are generally accepted in all regions around the world.
  2. Importantly, the researcher should understand that the methodology part is important in analyzing the problem in question. It should indicate the organization or target population and how the researcher will address their confidentiality issues or how the privacy of the population data will be maintained. The researcher should obtain informed consent and explain to the target population the primary purpose of the study. The target population should be aware that they are free to terminate the data collection at any stage.
  3. The researcher should also provide some of the challenges as well as limitations he or she may face in the field. This is important since it allows the researcher to address the expected challenges prior to data collection day. Without proper analysis of the expected challenges. The researcher may fail to provide reliable data for the study. Planning is also important since data collection is associated with different challenges.

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5. Study Implications

As much as the actual research has not been conducted, a researcher cannot skip mentioning some of the implications the study may provide the society in general. In that sense, the researcher must ensure that it indicates some of the ways it will use to polish the study and ensure that the study findings benefit society.

A study without effective implications is useless since all studies aim at solving a societal problem. The study must provide new interventions or ways of solving the problem in the future.

implications vs recommendations in a research proposal

implications vs recommendations in a research proposal

The researcher can also come up with new data collection methods and describe how others can use it in future studies. The study findings should provide some benefits to other researchers, policymakers and organizations around the world.

When thinking about the potential implications of the study, a researcher needs to ask the following questions:

  1. How will the study theoretical framework contribute to future studies?
  2. How will be suggestions provided by the researcher to improve future scholarly studies?
  3. How will the study findings help various organizations around the world?
  4. How will the study methods change the general viewpoints of researchers and policymakers?
  5. How will the researcher use the study findings to solve social as well as economic or political problems in society?
  6. Will the study findings have a positive impact on future policy decision making in society, especially among government agencies around the world?
  7. How will the study findings improve the problem solving, decision making and critical thinking aspect of the readers?
  8. Will the proposed study have negative effects on society or on the target policy. Especially during the data collection stage?
  9. What methods or procedures will the researcher use to implement and evaluate the study findings?
  10. How will the researcher meet the academic writing standards and avoid plagiarism challenges?

It is also important to note that this is the section where the researcher is allowed to speculate and give his or her opinion. The researcher should comment on the literature review and his or her main expectations from the study. He should also indicate supportive reasons behind the academic proposal topic and methods adopted

6. Conclusion

The conclusion summarises the importance or significance of the proposal and provides a brief summary of the entire study. This section should be one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why the research problem is worth investigating, why the research study is unique, and how it should advance existing knowledge.

Someone reading the conclusion section should pick the following;

  1. Why the study should be done.
  2. The researcher should also include the main objective of the study and how it will help solve problems in society.
  3. What the study aims to solve should be addressed in the concluding paragraph.
  4. The supportive reasons for the various methods adopted should be indicated. This may include the provision of the reasons why a specific data collection method or research design method was adopted by the researcher. One can also include some advantages achieved by adopting the methods indicated
  5. The researcher should also include the challenges to be expected
  6. The researcher should provide key implications of the study and how they will be used by current and future policymakers and researchers in various industries around the world.
  7. The potential implications emerging from the proposed study of the research problem.


Like any scholarly research paper, the researcher must cite all the sources used in the study. This is very important since it help eliminating plagiarism by acknowledging the original authors of literature used in the study.  The correct format and style should be used in citing the literature. The researcher should consult with the supervisor to get the right style to be used. Some of the common styles used by many researchers include APA and MLA or Chicago style.

  1. APA formatting

    APA formatting

    References; lists only the literature that the researcher actually used or cited in the Ph.D. Research Proposal.

  2. Bibliography; lists everything the researcher used or cited in the proposal. This may include the provision of all the sources the researcher included in the study.

This section indicates the research knowledge in terms of style and it also indicates that proper preparatory work was done to make sure the research will complement and not duplicate the efforts of other researchers. It is important to note that one should not consider the words in this section on adding up the total number of words expected in the study.

8. Appendix

This is the last section but does not appear as part of the proposal but as attachments to the proposal. It contains things like the proposed questionnaire that the researcher intends to use especially if it is a survey,


Appendix format in a research proposal

Appendix format in a research proposal

maps, budget, the work plan, and any other materials that are relevant to the research.


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