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Research Proposal | Research Proposal for Scholarship Applications: Format, Outline, Sections, and Elements of Research Proposal

Elements of a Research Proposal

The Research Proposal is a detailed document of your proposed research project with clearly stated objectives, supported literature review, expected challenges, study execution plan to achieve milestones, and valid scientific citations.

The research proposal is a document created with the intention of convincing a prospect that the research project being proposed by the candidate is worthwhile which must also focus on the candidate’s capability to successfully execute the project by outlining the clear research plan to achieve set goals [1]. The inclusion of unnecessary information that is not relevant to the research being proposed also becomes the cause of the chaos that ultimately results in proposal rejection [2]. The details in a research proposal have to be extremely relevant to the subject. It must be noted as per previous studies that the research proposals are considered of good quality if and only if the writer has focused on the subject by qualitatively selecting citations to support the claims instead of quantitatively adding partial or fully irrelevant literature as in references; as of just to increase the word count of the document [3].

Research Proposal Format and Sections

The research proposal is a document intended to convince the prospect that you have a worthwhile research project and capability with an organized research plan to achieve the targeted goals. Most of the research proposals lack the necessary information by skipping on essential sections in a research proposal as per previous studies and that becomes the reason for their proposal rejection. This article provides insights into writing a well-structured research proposal that contains all the essential sections. This article spotlights the major elements that must be covered in a research proposal document. These sections are the title, abstract, introduction, statement of objectives, analysis of literature, research methodology, research plan, budget estimations, research team particulars, funding source, co-worker acknowledgments, and references

Sections of a Research Proposal

A well-composed research proposal begins with a short and to-the-point (self-explanatory) title. Whereas the introduction part must demonstrate an in-depth but clearly supportive literature review to highlight the problems or challenges, objectives, and significance of the research study being proposed. The research proposal needs to include all the significant elements of the proposed research project and adequate information to enable the prospect to accurately evaluate the merits and feasibility of the proposed project and the writer must be aware of the dynamic trends that may influence proposal writing by keeping the most updated scientific terms in the proposal [4]. It is also necessary to figure out the research design factor of the research project under consideration that whether it will be descriptive research or explanatory research study and then write the research proposal accordingly [5].

Writing a Research Proposal for Scholarship Application for 2023-2024 session

Every research project has to tackle the following six issues irrespective of the field being researched and the methods being followed:

    1. The need for research on the subject
    2. The importance of the research findings
    3. The methods to be used for research
    4. Proposed objectives of the research
    5. Expected challenges in conducting the study
    6. Funding requirements during the study

The research proposal should only be composed after adequate prior preparation and deliberation for the following reasons:

    • The research proposal that has been underprepared and badly written would in all probability be rejected by your prospect.
    • A research proposal that has been well-prepared will assist you in visualizing the project, planning research details, implementing plans, and monitoring fieldwork.
    • A research proposal that lacked preparation would undoubtedly appear poorly written and create the impression of a lack of commitment to the project on your part.
    • The research proposal forms an important part of the application for a grant and could arguably be the deciding factor given the number of people competing for it.

13 Elements of the Research Proposal: Research Proposal Outline

There are certain factors that come into play when one needs to write a research proposal for a specific purpose i.e. for proposing an academic research project in a school or college, for the purpose of pitching a project idea to obtain grant/funding from an institute or for convincing a company to kick start a scientific study or scientific project. The writer has to first focus on the main idea and purpose of the proposal that needs to be written and then based on this preliminary information a plot for composing different sections of the research proposal may be constructed. Following are the complete set of section headings that a generalized research proposal includes but one may include or exclude any of the below-listed sections based on their specific requirements:

Following are the 13 Elements of the Research Proposal:

  1. The Title
  2. Abstract
  3. Keywords
  4. Introduction
  5. Statement of Objectives
  6. Analysis of Literature
  7. Research Methodology
  8. Research Plan
  9. Estimated Budget
  10. Research Team Particulars
  11. Funding Source
  12. Co-worker Acknowledgements
  13. References

Write the Title of Research Proposal:

The research proposal should have a title that adequately describes the research project that is proposed to be conducted by the candidate in a clear yet concise manner. The title should be able to convey a clear idea of the research study or research project being a research proposal.

As per the previous studies, it was noted that most of the research proposals get rejected only because of the long or irrelevant use of words that misleads the scope of the research project or research study [3]. The self-contradictory titles often raise questions that void the acceptance of the research proposal by the judiciary.

Sometimes, if the titles of the research proposals are long but yet meaningful then the reviewers suggest the candidate revise the topic based on their recommended changes and after the changes are completed then the proposal sometimes becomes acceptable instead of rejection; straightaway. The title of the research proposal can be revised once the research is actively begun to better reflect the research topic.

Writing the Abstract of the Research Proposal:

The abstract is a brief summing up of the entire research proposal. Ideally, it should be around 300 words long but the requirement to limit the word count is normally given by the school, company, or institute where the proposal is being submitted.

It was noted that there was no use of citations inside the abstract composition which indicates that the abstract is actually the short read summary of the research proposal. It should comprise the key research topic, the reasons for choosing a particular topic, any hypothesis that would be adopted, and the research methodology. The abstract should stand independently of the rest of the proposal. It should not require reference to anything that is mentioned in the rest of the proposal.

Choose keywords for Research Paper:

When a research paper is accepted by an institution then it becomes part of the database of that institution’s maintained record sometimes. This is why some institutes or companies specify the use of keywords to classify your research paper to let it fall into a specific category/niche; which makes it easier for them to save the research paper into a specific category.

Keywords also play a vital role by indexing your paper into niche-specific search engines (if publically displayed). It also helps the person who wishes to locate category-specific records which means the use of the keywords section in a research paper is strongly advised. Normally, three to five keywords in addition to a research paper document are good enough.

Write the introduction of the Research Proposal:

The introduction to the research proposal gives your prospect a better understanding of the background to the main research study being a proposal at a time. The idea is to create a framework for the proposed research topic to assist the prospect in relating it back to the research that has already been completed in the same field.

The introduction should explain why research is required on the chosen topic and how this study can influence them on the subject because of which one decided to write the proposal. The introduction part of the proposal has to be composed in such storytelling yet a scientific way to clearly picture the problems that raised the concerns to initiate the proposal study. Here, one must take extra care to use only supporting citations. If a large number of citations are being used that are not closely related to the topic then the research proposal reviewers may lose their way to find convince-able references and hence it may lead to the rejection of the proposal sometimes.

What are the elements of an introduction section in the Research Proposal?

The introduction in a scientific research proposal should generally include the elements listed below:

    • A statement on larger research issues in clear and unambiguous terms as well as the purpose of the study.
    • A contextual background so as to clearly signify to the prospect the importance and necessity of research on the issue.
    • An explanation of the rationale behind the choice of the proposed research topic
    • A convincing discussion on the benefits that will accrue from the proposed research.
    • An identification of the major variables of the proposed research topic.
    • A statement of the hypothesis and research questions.
    • An assertion of the limitations and probable obstacles to the proposed research.

Writing Statement of Objectives in Research Proposal:

The statement of objectives section of the research proposal clearly lists out the goals of the proposed research project. These could be general goals or specific goals. The statement of the objective has to be precise.

It is recommended to write the objective statement in one sentence in order to make it clear which makes it look more convincing to the reader. Meanwhile, as if the statement is clear then it gets the attention of the reader to read more about it by exploring the proposal in depth.

Highlight Novelty of Your Proposed Research Proposal

If the candidate has not mentioned the novelty of the proposed research then it will account as one of the most common mistakes observed by the reviewers of research proposals. I can say with my experience that the Novelty of the proposed research study is basically the heartbeat of your research proposal. One must put great effort to write it down with valid supporting citations

What are the rules for Writing a Statement of Objectives?

When writing the statement of objectives one should keep the following in mind;

    1. State the objectives precisely and clearly.
    2. State a set of objectives that are achievable within a specific timeframe.
    3. Avoid long lists of objectives or objectives that are too extensive in their scope.
    4. Stated objectives should be quantifiable and realistic.

How to do Literature Analysis while Writing the Research Proposal?

The analysis of the literature section in the research proposal is meant to make available sufficient background information that will aid the prospect in better understanding the larger research issue or problem at hand. The section should provide an indication of research that has been conducted on the issue as well as any research that is ongoing.

This will help in placing the proposed research topic from the right perspective. This will also help the prospect ascertain that neither has the research topic being proposed in the research proposal been investigated before nor is it being currently investigated by some other researcher.

How to start the Literature Review Report Writing?

The literature review section should be brief and relevant to the proposed research topic. It should include citations and references. It should fulfill the following functions;

    1. Establish your knowledge of the research issue.
    2. Illustrate your ability to conduct a critical analysis of literature on the research issue.
    3. Establish your awareness of the existing theory and research related to the research issue in question.
    4. Persuade the prospect about the substance and significance of the contribution that the proposed research is likely to make to the literature on the research issue.

How to Study Plan in Research Proposal?

The study plan here refers to the scheduling and organizing of study times to aim for achieving the set goals. The research methodology section of the research proposal is of particular significance as it informs the prospect of the approach/methods that you will take in dealing with the research study being proposed. This research methodology section should convincingly prove to the prospect that a certain process can be adopted for the execution of the proposed research in a reliable manner.

It should also state the activities/work that candidates have to put in to successfully complete the proposed research study. Generally, various approaches are adopted in defining the nature of the research study such as descriptive, exploratory, analytical, correlational, casual, inferential, qualitative, and quantitative research techniques. It is the choice of the writer to think about the kind of research design writing style in which the proposal fits well and then to outline the necessary sections in the draft.

Research Design Definition and Explanation

The research design is a terminology used to classify the study being conducted by the researcher towards a more specific genre based on the experimental and study execution techniques and plan.

Following are the research methodology child elements that the writer may consider to include in the research proposal document:

  • Design of the proposed research study: A statement on whether the choice of study design is descriptive, case-study, or cross-sectional. Provide an explanation of whether the study is based on a questionnaire submitted to participants or experiments conducted in a laboratory.
  • An explanation of how the research location was chosen.
  • Participants/subjects of the proposed research project: Provide details on the participants of the proposed research study, the sampling methods that would be used, and the inclusion/exclusion norms.
  • A calculation of the sample size depending on the research study being undertaken.
  • A description of the instruments that will be used in the proposed study, whether they are feasible and can be relied on, and the reasons for the particular choices. These would include a description of the kinds of questionnaires that would be used in the study.
  • A description of the activities involved in data collection, how they would be carried out, and how long it would take.
  • A description of how the data collected would be analyzed and interpreted. The research proposal should detail out plans to be used for data processing and coding, the computer software that will be used, the statistical techniques, significance and confidence levels, and so on. Dummy tables could also be provided as a tool to explain the process of data interpretation and analysis.
  • A discussion of the ethical concerns where proposed research involves invasive procedures on human or animal subjects. In such cases, it would be essential to submit the research proposal to the Ethical committee at the location of your workplace as well as at the location where the research project is proposed to be conducted.

What is the Research Plan?

The research plan section of a research proposal outlines the proposed plan or proposed timeline for conducting research on the proposed research topic.

The research plan section provides information on how the person who undertakes the project will initiate the project, make progress from time to time as proposed, and accomplish the suggested set targets. The plan should provide a tentative time span over which the research is proposed to be carried out as well as a schedule for the various activities that will form a part of the proposed research process. This would include scheduling of time for the following:

    • Conducting the literature survey to identify the expected duration of the project
    • Making purchases and getting hold of consumables and amenities necessary for the conduct of the proposed research
    • Conducting the proposed research study and experimentation
    • Scrutinizing the data
    • Comparing the current data with an expected hypothesis and analyzing the final result deviations
    • Writing the final report on the proposed research project

A schedule for the various activities is vital for effective monitoring of the research project. Every major activity to be conducted over the proposed research period should be included in the activity schedule and should be allocated a fixed time span. Research milestones should also be laid down. The Gantt chart is an effective tool for mapping an activity schedule. The use of graphs, figures, or timeline clip-arts in this section to visually improve the presentation of the research proposal uplifts the interest of the reader and that is why it is recommended by the institutes to include graphical information sometimes in this section.

Funding Requirement Proposal

The specifics of working out the research funding requirements of the research proposal as applicable to all academic disciplines have been discussed here. The rudiments of writing a research proposal differ across various academic disciplines. This is because research on epistemological projects is based upon a completely different set of assumptions than that on practical projects. However, research proposal writing as discussed here is a broad introduction to the subject and is applicable across all academic disciplines.

Irrespective of whether your project is epistemological or practical in nature, the funding agencies and their reviewers would expect that the research proposal provides for a research plan, assumptions, research queries, and results. Moreover, visualizing the project in these terms could reveal previously overlooked aspects of the project to you. Hence, the art of writing a research proposal is a useful tool to possess.

Writing a research proposal is not the linear process of idea-proposal-award that it apparently is, but rather has a circular course of action that begins and ends with an idea/goal as explained in the diagram given below.

How to Propose Funding Requirements?

You may choose to include the budget or funding or grant requirement section in your documents such as the research proposal, study plan, or other documents. In all these documents, one needs to set a separate section on writing the cost estimation requirements to carry out the research study or the job being proposed.

In this section, the candidate needs to breakdown each and every expected cost to provide a clear understanding of your finance requirement. The project cost may be expanded into as many as possible subcategories such as material cost, manpower budgeting, machinery funding, operational expenses, emergency expenses, and so on. The expansion of the budgeting depends upon the nature of the project being proposed. The candidates may also consider adding a subcategory to include profit-taking/revenue generation models which must clearly show the initial to running cost, break-even point, and profit expectancy.

The estimated budget section in the research proposal should detail out the budget for the entire proposed project as also the expected sources of finance. The budget should provide an activity-wise or item-wise categorization of costs as well as a justification for each.

How to Write funding requirements in Research Proposal?

The research proposal’s budget section clearly states the costs involved in implementing the project. It generally is composed of tables or worksheets with the budget details and a section providing a justification for the budget explaining the need for the various expenses mentioned therein. An explanation of the budget should be provided in the research proposal even though it may not have been specifically required of you in the organization/program guidelines.

The budget section of the research proposal should provide a comprehensive budget for the entire project. The budget should not be constrained to the size of the grant being offered. If the budget does exceed the size of the grant, provide a clarification that you are looking for other sources of funding as well. Such a stance taken in the research proposal will help you explain things later if and when you receive grants from more than one source.

The items mentioned in the budget should fall within the specific guidelines of the organization being applied to. If any item does not fall the stated guidelines, ensure that you provide an explanation on how you will fund that item, in the budget justification section.

Often universities require that the costs not directly related to the research project or indirect costs be added to the funding sources that are under the particular university’s administration. Each university would have a list of standard rates for such indirect expenses which could be obtained from their administrative office.  Create a draft budget for indirect expenses and have it vetted by the officer in charge at the university before including it in the research proposal.

The main deterrent to proving a comprehensive budget in the research proposal would probably come down to your feelings of shame or embarrassment in requesting funding or in self-promotion. However, such feelings would probably relate more to personal insecurities than to the quality of the research proposal. Hence, keeping in mind the fact that if you don’t ask you won’t get funding will probably help in overcoming such feelings of insecurity. Besides, the most harm that could be done to you if you asked would be a refusal to provide funding in which case you could apply to your next source.

How to enlist Research Co-workers in Research Proposal?

The section on research team particulars provides details on the probable research team members and includes the following;

    • An identification of all the expertise that will be required on the proposed project as well as the team that will work on the proposed research project.
    • A schedule of responsibilities for each team member
    • The CVs of all the key team members who would be working on the proposed project
    • Written participation consent from all the proposed research team members

Identify the Funding Needs, Challenges, and other aspects in Research

Recognizing the project needs/requirements would be the first step you take and the answers to the questions mentioned below could help you get there.

    • Is the research to be undertaken the pilot or preliminary kind that will lead to the development of a full-fledged research program?
    • Is funding required for all, some, or any one of the following; fieldwork, experiments, postdoctoral research, dissertation research, pre-dissertation research, or archival research?
    • Is a stipend being sought in order to write a book, refine a manuscript, or write a thesis?
    • Is a resident research fellowship with program assistance or other project enhancement resources being sought at an institution offering the same?
    • Is funding required for an extensive and lengthy research project that would be conducted over several years and would require the employment of many staff personnel?

The next step would be to deliberate on the project focal point. The points listed below could help you narrow down your choices.

    • Identify the topic and its importance
    • List out the research problems that you are attempting to resolve and the relevance of those problems
    • Identify your research hypotheses
    • Identify research methods
    • Contemplate the significance and importance of your research project
    • Consider whether you would prefer the use of qualitative or quantitative research methods or whether you would rather use both.
    • Consider whether your research would be the experimental kind or the clinical kind

Once the project needs and focus have been determined, project funding organizations and grant programs can be explored.

What is the White Paper (General Proposal)?

The White Paper is a concise and authoritative report on a complex issue that dictates the philosophy of the issuer about that issue. The White paper helps in understanding a complex problem which enables the person to solve the issue or make a decision based on this document.

Writing a White Paper before drafting the Research Proposal

Since funding is usually sought from various grant programs and project funding organizations, one could begin the process of applying for the same by drafting a research proposal and a research budget that is general in nature. Such a general research proposal is often referred to as a ‘White Paper’. The white paper should address a general academic audience with an explanation of your proposed project. Research proposals that are to be submitted to various programs and organizations have to be modified to reflect the specific rules and guidelines of each program or organization.

What to avoid while writing a Research Proposal?

The top priority while composing a scientific research proposal must be to avoid the use of unnecessary information and statements that one can not prove with valid citations.

The research proposal is often flawed due to errors that are avoidable such as;

    • Objectives that do not adequately reflect the title of the research proposal
    • An absence of a literature review/provision of references
    • Broad-based or over-ambitious objectives
    • Poor scheduling of activities
    • A methodology that has been inadequately described
    • An unjustifiedly big/small budget that asks for either too much/too little financial assistance

How to Write Conclusion in Research Proposal?

The conclusion section of the research proposal provides insights on expected study outcomes, information on challenges during the project execution, possible deviations in results with the scientific and societal impact of the study being proposed.

The research proposal and its elements as described above are meant to act as a guide to aid in writing a well-structured research proposal to pitch your project idea in a professional manner. As per previous studies, most of the research proposals lack the necessary sections which in turn results in rejection of a proposal. In this study, we have provided all the essential components that a person must outline to write a well-structured research proposal.

How to Cite reports in Research Proposal?

When the research proposal cites various works within its description, a list of references has to be provided at the end of the proposal. This section of the proposal is generally not counted in the page limits set in the guidelines.

Bibliography (References) section of the Research Proposal

A list of references is prepared by listing out the books, journals, articles, or other documents that you have cited in the research proposal. This list is generally arranged in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. However, there are different styles of formatting references and you should check the guidelines to see if any style has been specified. You could also consult with your mentor on the same or look up the references section of the research articles assigned to you in your reading list. The use of endnote or Mendeley is highly recommended while drafting the research proposal.

The Research Proposal article was composed by taking References from the following sources:

[1] A.J. Onwuegbuzie, Writing a research proposal: The role of library anxiety, statistics anxiety, and composition anxiety, Library & Information Science Research, 19 (1997) 5-33.

[2] S. Isaac, W.B. Michael, Handbook in research and evaluation: A collection of principles, methods, and strategies useful in the planning, design, and evaluation of studies in education and the behavioral sciences, Edits publishers1995.

[3] A.W. Heath, The proposal in qualitative research, The qualitative report, 3 (1997) 1-4.

[4] P. Vakkari, M. Pennanen, S. Serola, Changes of search terms and tactics while writing a research proposal: A longitudinal case study, Information processing & management, 39 (2003) 445-463.

[5] M. Sandelowski, D.H. Davis, B.G. Harris, Artful design: Writing the proposal for research in the naturalist paradigm, Research in Nursing & Health, 12 (1989) 77-84.

Dr. Engr. Yousaf Saeed (Scholarship Winner)

I'm Dr. Engr. Yousaf Saeed, founder of the AScholarship Education Portal. My academic path includes 3 prestigious international scholarships — Australia Awards, CSC, and HKPFS — for my higher studies. I am also an IChemE affiliate whereas I've also worked for companies like Aramco and BYCO oil refinery as an production engineer at the start of my career. I completed MS, and PhD with major research publications in leading SCI journals (details on my Researchgate Profile). This reflects my commitment to educating and therefore i started it for the purpose to guide aspiring international students for find scholarships for their higher education dream. As an experienced educator and mentor, I specialize in navigating the intricacies of research and patent and write useful articles on these topics too.


  1. I have stated a research problem dealing with similarities and differences among three regions in a country. However, I hardly noted few similarities and differences among those three regions. Is there a solution to this issue ?

  2. dear zahira Bano.
    please can you assist me with a topic or guide me on how to write a research plan or proposal for a PhD degree in analytical and environmental chemistry. thanks

  3. Thanks for the pleusible information. I’m also a scientific researcher. I’m glad the information has expanded my capacity of thinking and I’m excited every day in learning how to face new challenges

  4. I have completed my BS in Gender Studies, i have 3.85 CGPA . I am also a gold medalist. Now i want to study Master’s abroad so which country or scholarship can i apply with out IELTS.

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