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Library Research Navigator: Destination 3: Proposal Writing

Your preliminary source of information and guidance as you begin or continue with your research journey.

Preparing a Research Proposal

​Before any research project begins, detailed plans are essential. Designing and planning a whole research project involves choosing a researchable, significant topic and preparing a well-developed research proposal. During this time you need to consider methodological issues, the theory used in your research and reading material that will help you to refine your research project. Ultimately, a good proposal serves as a valuable direction finder that helps the researcher to get going on their project with more confidence. 

What is a research proposal? 

  • ​A document that outlines how you propose to undertake your research project  
  • Outlines your thinking about your research problem
  • Clearly state your research question and the sub-questions that will be used to answer the research question
  • What you wish to study and how it should be done

Library Resources for your Literature Review

A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory. By so doing, it provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.

Please click here for the resources you will need to use for your literature review include: 

Elements of a Research Proposal

Please note that these are the basic components of a research proposal. Kindly consult your supervisor or faculty for a proposal template used within your discipline.

1. Cover or Title Page

The title is a simple summary and concise statement of the main concept/s investigated, and the proposed relationship between them. It should be self-explanatory and in title case (all major words are capitalized, while minor words are lowercased)

2. Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is five-fold:

  • the Problem is introduced, which should attract and retain the attention and interest of the reader
  • the Background or Setting of the problem is provided, which will sketch the context and dynamics of the problem
  • the Research Area / Topic is demarcated by identifying a target group and highlighting the impact of the problem on them
  • a Motivation for the study is offered by discussing the deficiencies in the literature regarding the problem
  • a General statement of the purpose of the research is stated that could lead to general and specific research questions
  • Lastly, the expected value of the research contribution is described

3. Hypotheses or Research Questions

  • If you state a hypothesis indicate whether it is a statistical or a non-statistical hypothesis
  • If statistical, indicate at what level of statistical significance it will be accepted or rejected
  •  Depending on the nature of your discipline, it may not be necessary to base your research on a hypothesis but rather to explore, investigate or analyze a particular context or situation 

4. Objectives of the Research

  • Clarify the aims and objectives of the research
  • Objectives should be divided into main and subsidiary objectives and should be numbered
  • When writing the proposal, remain focused on the objectives

5. Literature Review

  • Provide evidence to the Faculty Research Committee that you are well acquainted with past and current research in the field of study
  • Prove that the thesis/dissertation will not duplicate past or current research (at Ph.D. level)
  • Indicate how the intended research relates to similar and past research; the literature review positions your research  with the existing body of knowledge
  • Interlocking findings and unanswered questions
  • Your preliminary work on the topic
  • The remaining questions and inter-locking logic

6. Theoretical Framework

A theoretical framework consists of concepts and, together with their definitions and reference to relevant scholarly literature, existing theory that is used for your particular study. The theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts that are relevant to the topic of your research paper and that relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.

The theoretical framework strengthens the study in the following ways:

  • An explicit statement of theoretical assumptions permits the reader to evaluate them critically.
  • The theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, you are given a basis for your hypotheses and choice of research methods.
  • Articulating the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces you to address questions of why and how. It permits you to intellectually transition from simply describing a phenomenon you have observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.
  • Having a theory helps you identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest and highlights the need to examine how those key variables might differ and under what circumstances.

7. Method

  • This section is written in the future tense for the proposal and re-written in the past tense for the thesis or dissertation.
  • Explain how the study will be conducted, with emphasis on the following: a) participants, b) instruments to be used for data collection, c) process through which data will be collected, d) how data will be analyzed e) ethical considerations, f) timeline.

7. Expected Results

  • This section should give a good indication of what you expect to get out of the research
  • Please note: In the Social Sciences and Humanities this can often not be stated and therefore expected results are not needed in a proposal
  • Should join the data analysis and possible outcomes to the theory and questions that you have raised
  •  Should be a good place to summarize the significance of the work

8. References

  • This is a list of the literature referred to in your research proposal
  • Do not include titles not cited, or that have no relevance to your research problem
  • Clearly distinguish between a List of References and a Bibliography
  • The latter includes all material consulted, including background reading not necessarily cited



Research proposal at a glance

Useful Books

How to make a good research proposal

Visit the UJ previous research repository too see how others did their research