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Write a Research Proposal

What is the purpose of a research proposal?

A research proposal is a document that demonstrates the significance of a proposed research project to individuals or organizations who may wish to fund or support the research project.

It should provide the following information:

  1. a strong foundation for a specific study
  2. a detailed description of the methodology
  3. an explicit plan of analysis

A research proposal should convince readers and reviewers that the proposed project is important and timely and that this research will make important contributions to the respective field, invested community, or stakeholders.

What should I consider before writing my proposal?

Consider your audience:

Often the people evaluating proposals (i.e., committee members, funding agencies) are comprised of non-experts. Your proposal should be written so that non-experts can clearly understand your research problem and proposed solution.

Consider your language:

  • Minimize use of field-specific jargon, abbreviations, or colloquial expressions.
  • Aim for your writing to be clear, concise, and cohesive.

How do I start writing my proposal?

The following list includes suggestions to help writers get started on their research proposals:

  1. Conduct a literature search and review​
    1. What are the recent developments in this field?​
    2. What questions have not been answered in the literature?
  2. Use concept mapping
    • Broaden your thinking to consider multiple questions, potential hypotheses, and additional areas of research.
    • Then narrow your focus and scope of research to fit within your proposed project parameters and timelines.
  3. Specify the gap you want to address
  4. Develop the justification and rationale for the study​
    • What is the demand for this type of study?
    • Why is this research important?
    • Who are stakeholders, and why would they be interested?
    • Why are you the person to do this research?
    • What do you need to know in order to design the study?​
  5. Download and use the "Organizing your Research Proposal - Template" document in this LibGuide.
    • Create and clarify your research question(s)
    • Begin gathering and organizing your ideas
    • Start drafting sections of text

These following resources are designed to support your research and writing process.

What are the guidelines and expectations for research and thesis proposals?

Tri-Council funding guidelines

Check out the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for their specific funding proposal expectations.

Departmental guidelines for thesis proposals

Analyzing examples of successful proposals can provide insight into structure and expectations. Some departments keep an archive of thesis and grant proposals.

Talk with your supervisor to gain a clear understanding of their specific expectations. Depending on what department you are in, you may want to emphasize certain sections, include extra sections, or even omit sections.

The "Organizing your Research Proposal - Template" in this LibGuide highlights the key components in a proposal, and this document can be shared with your supervisor to guide your discussions and help clarify expectations.

University of Guelph department-specific guidelines

Links to examples of different departmental guidelines within six of the colleges at the University of Guelph can be found below:

To contribute to this list and to submit new links for updated handbooks, please email

*Please note: at the time of writing, the author could not find a handbook for the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

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