How to write a research proposal

Your research proposal is a key component when applying to study a research degree at Western Sydney University. These guidelines are designed to help you prepare your research proposal.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal is an outline of your research project that:

  • Defines a potential research question and your approach to answering it.
  • Highlights the originality or significance of the research area.
  • Explains how the research will add to, develop, or challenge existing literature and knowledge.
  • Describes the importance of the research.
  • Describes why you are the right person to undertake the research.

Different disciplines have different requirements and expectations for the research proposal. We recommend that you discuss your research proposal with your proposed supervisor prior to submitting your application.

What is the purpose of the research proposal?

We will use your research proposal to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, your expertise and understanding of the research area, and the overall feasibility of your research project. We will also consider how the project will contribute to the field of research.

Your research proposal provides you with an opportunity to capture the attention of your audience, convince them of the importance of the research, and express your enthusiasm and ability to successfully undertake the project.

Who can help me develop my research proposal?

You will need to identify a potential supervisor and contact them to discuss your research proposal. When you have found a researcher that has a mutual interest or experience in the research area, they will be able to provide input into the design, scope and feasibility of your research project.

You will need to provide a letter of support from your proposed supervisor as part of your application.

How do I structure my research proposal?

1. PROJECT TITLE

There is no set format or length for a research proposal and the content will depend on your experience in the field, the requirements of your discipline and the type of project. It should cover the main headings listed below (unless your discipline recommends otherwise) and be approximately two to five pages in length (excluding references).

2. PROPOSED SUPERVISORS

You should provide the details of a supervisor who you have had a discussion with and that has provided you with a letter of support. Provide a brief description of any initial discussions you have had with the potential supervisor and outline why you would like them to join your supervisory panel. You may choose to list additional supervisors that are interested in joining your supervision panel.

3. BACKGROUND

You should justify your project based on a review of the current literature on the topic. You should discuss the most important books or journal articles, demonstrate your understanding of the issues that need further research, and identify the gaps that your research is intended to address.

4. RESEARCH QUESTIONS

You should put forward some questions or problems that you would like to answer in your research project. You should be able to summarise the questions in one or two sentences.

5. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

Provide an outline of any specialist equipment, access to resources, travel or other requirements your will require during the project.

6. METHODOLOGY AND DATA ANALYSIS

Provide an outline of how you plan to undertake the project. You may consider describing a qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods or practice-led approach, how the data or information will be generated, how you expect to analyse the data and indicate any broad theoretical framework you may use in the project.

If your project may involve interacting with humans or animals, you may also choose to address potential ethical considerations or implications.

7. RESEARCH PLAN AND TIMELINE

Summarise the steps that will be required to undertake your research project. You might find it best to establish a set of action items, such as complete a literature review, apply for ethics approval, conduct experiments, analyse results, etc. and estimate how long each step will take to complete. You can use this to provide an approximate timeline of your project from beginning to end, within the confines of the maximum allowable time for your degree.

Your timeline can be based on a monthly or quarterly schedule and the exact dates for the completion of tasks are not required at this stage. Your aim is to demonstrate that the proposed project is feasible in the available candidature time.

8. RESOURCES

Provide an outline of any specialist equipment, access to facilities, travel for fieldwork or other resources that may be required to successfully undertake the project.

9. REFERENCES

You should include a list of all the references that have been used in the proposal.

What are some tips for writing a strong research proposal?

Your research proposal has a direct impact on the overall strength of your application to study a research degree. The following tips and advice may help you to strengthen the quality of your research proposal.

  • Clearly articulate your project title, research idea, research questions or problems to be addressed in your proposal. You should write succinctly and persuasively to engage your audience.
  • Ensure that you are able to clearly demonstrate a gap in the existing literature or the knowledge in your area of interest.
  • You should only approach potential supervisors when you have enough experience or have completed enough background research in your area of interest to have a robust discussion about a potential research project.
  • Use your research proposal to demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of your area of research interest, that you can indicate an understanding of the method(s) you will use, and that your approach will be suitable and appropriate to the discipline.
  • The scope of your project must be reasonable and achievable. There are limits to the size and complexity of the type of project that can be successfully completed during a research candidature. Your research proposal will be assessed for both intellectual contribution and significance, as well as the potential that it can be completed on-time.
  • Demonstrate that you have a passion for the topic. You must be enthusiastic about the area of research and be ready to commit to completing a challenging project within the available candidature time. You will need to be dedicated, focussed and prepared to work hard to achieve the aims and objectives of the project.