The research proposal answers the following questions:
Adapted from K. Punch, 2006:20
A good proposal has several elements. The specific format and content of the elements may vary, depending on requirements set by the academic department concerned.
Statement of the problem: This section should include a clear and concise statement of the purpose or goal of the project.
Literature review: A proposal should reflect your understanding of relevant bodies of literature and where your study fits in that context. The literature review should trace the central themes in the literature, highlight major areas of disagreement, and reflect a critical stance toward the materials reviewed.
Conceptual framework: What theories or concepts will guide the study? How or why do they suggest the specific hypotheses or research question? What are the strenghts and weaknesses of the proposed framework? The proposal should contain clear evidence that you understand the theoretical perspective and can work with it.
Hypotheses or research questions: Following the description of the conceptual framework, there should be a clear, crisp statement of the research hypothesis, or in the case of some qualitative studies, a concise description of the phenomena to be examined. An explanation of why testing the hypothesis or answering the questions is appropriate for elucidating the research problems and show consistency with the conceptual framework should be included.
Methodology: This section consists of a description of plans for collecting and analysing the data. What instruments will be used? Why are they appropriate for this study? Is there evidence of the insturments' reliability and validity? How and to whom will they be administered? What procedure will be followed in the data analysis? For qualitative studies, there should be an explanation of the purpose of observation and interviews, and, if possible, some indication of their content and format.
Task structure (scope of work): This section indicates exactly what will be done, the sequence of the various activities and the products of deliverables that will be prepared. Planning a viable schedule for carrying out the tasks is often as important as developing a comprehensive list of tasks.
Budget: A few research proposals also require budget information. Budget information include the amount of total expected cost both direct and indirect, cost of any equipment required, cost of field study, accommodation and conference participation etc. If any other organisation is sponsoring the project then that information should also come in this section.
Reference: Your references should provide the reader with a good sense of your grasp on the literature and how you can contribute to it. Be sure to reference texts and resources that you think will play a large role in your analysis. Remember that this is not simply a bibliography listing ‘everything written on the subject’. Rather, it should show critical reflection in the selection of appropriate texts.
This video developed by Massey University (New Zealand) provides a good introduction to what a research proposal is, what elements it should include and how it should be structured.