Writing a Successful Research Proposal

As Scholars, research proposals are something you will write numerous times throughout your academic career in order to describe and propose a research project you’d like to undertake. Often, your proposal will be the official document that you submit in order to be considered for funding, just like the proposal all McNair Scholars who participate in UNL’s UCARE program have experience writing.

Junior Scholars are now completing their research proposals for the 2011 McNair Scholars Research Experience, and many of our graduating Senior Scholars are also likely thinking ahead to the projects they’d like to undertake while in graduate school. A strong, well-written research proposal is the first step to a quality research project, so we put together a few tips and reminders to keep in mind as you work on current and future research proposals.

What exactly is a research proposal? One definition of a research proposal is: a detailed management plan for a research project. While your plan should be detailed, it also needs to be concise and well thought out. A well-researched and focused proposal will save you valuable time and effort in revisions later.

You’ll begin your research proposal like any other piece of academic work, with an introduction. Your introduction should provide a brief overview of the research problem, and create interest in the topic and question being researched. (this section should illustrate the “so what?” where you describe why your research is relevant and noteworthy to others)

Following the introduction, you’ll develop a problem statement. Keep in mind that the research you propose to do must be unique and relevant. In the problem statement, you’ll describe the importance of the research you plan to conduct, and also provide readers with a framework to understand how your research will fit into the broader picture of scholarship on your topic.

Your research proposal will also contain a literature review. The literature review will be your opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve undertaken a thorough review of the current research that exists on your given topic, and demonstrates any “holes” that exist in current research.

A research proposal must also include a methods section, detailing how you will collect and analyze the data you’ll be using.

When completed, you should be able to confidently say that your research proposal demonstrates:

  • Why the proposed research is important
  • Who the research is important to
  • How the conducted research will contribute to already existing scholarship and practice

Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you have questions along the way. Faculty members are there to help, and can talk to you about how research proposals are written in your discipline. You can also ask for help or assistance from a graduate student in your department. They have experience writing research proposals, and should be happy to share their insight on how to successfully complete the process. Finally, McNair staff are here to help as well—just ask!

Some material taken from Dr. Richard Lombardo’s lecture “Writing a Research Proposal.”
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Explore posts in the same categories: Graduate School, MSRE, Research & Internships

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