Research Proposal Papers: How to Begin

There are three critical questions each and every research proposal, regardless of discipline, must cover, and it is in determining your answers to these questions that you’ll find the best way to begin your proposal. The questions are:

  1. WHAT
  2. What will your research accomplish? Regardless of how well thought out it is, your proposal will fail if you don’t have a valid goal. You want to answer this question first by defining the problem you hope to solve with your research. Whether it’s an issue of data which has yet to be gathered that could be applied usefully to another problem, or an attempt to directly solve some other problem via research, you’ll want to make clear what your research, if approved, will accomplish.

  3. WHY
  4. The response to your “what” is likely to be “so?” Why is what you want to accomplish important? Sometimes it can be difficult to cover both of these things thoroughly, so think about it in a simpler context: You want to mix flour, eggs, milk, sugar, and baking powder. WHAT you will accomplish is making cookies. Why do you want to make cookies? Because you’re hungry, and cookies are delicious. Obviously, this is overly simplified, but it’s important to separate these two concepts in your mind as you write your proposal to answer them both in detail. You can use the literature review that will surely be required to help to answer this point with authority.

  5. HOW
  6. Here’s where you detail your research design. Be certain not to just describe the design, but to describe how this research will fulfill your “what” and “why.” Be realistic. This has to be a research proposal that you can actually gather the resources to carry out. Mention potential difficulties you will encounter and how you plan to solve them.

Once you know your own answers to these questions, have taken notes, and come up with a compelling research design, you can create an outline for your proposal. It’s not a bad idea at this point to, if your instructor has time, ask to have the outline reviewed. If there are glaring issues with your proposal, they’re much less of a hassle to fix at this stage. That way, you can make adjustments before you’ve gone through the effort of putting the entire thing into a presentable proposal and handing it in.