When writing a proposal for a research paper, there are some key concepts you need to highlight. First, before even starting your proposal, you should conduct some “preliminary research.” Before deciding to fully elaborate upon a specific topic, ensure that you have a comprehensive idea of what the current “question” regarding your topic is. Preliminary research can be done via Google, Google Scholar, or the Woodbury University Library Databases. Just remember, preliminary research is your context and background knowledge prior to saying, “Yes, I want to research more about X.”
To write a proposal, here are the specific areas you have to present to the reader:
1) Introduce the topic (max ~300 words, one paragraph)
2) What do you plan to accomplish? (max ~150 words, one paragraph)
3) Contextual boundaries & the research being conducted (~ 300 words max, one paragraph)
To clearly establish this information for the reader, you may use first and second person perspectives. The purpose of proposals is to be done before you have your paper completely done – so it is okay to speculate about your plans or the exact research you will need to conduct. Paper proposals essentially test you to see if your concept, working thesis, or overall idea is unified enough to where you can predict where your discussion will go.
To form your proposal, follow the outline below. The questions being asked in each section need to be answered in complete sentences and each of the three sections enumerated above will be answered in one coherent paragraph.
Section 1: Introduce the topic (max ~300 words, one paragraph)
– Summary of what you want to explore
– Several sentences justifying why this discussion is warranted
– Several sentences explaining your interests in the topic
Section 2: What do you plan to accomplish? (max ~150 words, one paragraph)
– Define your research question or problem.
Section 3: Contextual boundaries & the research being conducted (~ 300 words max, one paragraph)
– Inform the reader about your preliminary research and how your paper’s discussion tackles a larger question (this will be your “so what” concept).
– How are you conducting research? (Are you looking through databases, conducting surveys, finding first person accounts of a problem for anecdotal evidence?)
– Cite landmark sources (is there any “big thinker” you can rely on to help guide your paper? If your research has a political science, philosophical, sociological, or economic angle to a topic then find a prominent scholar or thinker in that field and note how their theories help you understand a topic).
Research paper proposals are not very long. At most, this should be two pages – at the least, it should be half a page. However detailed you want to be during your proposal is up to you, however, successful proposals will be pointed and specific enough for the reader to know what the paper’s goal is.
Here are some extra resources regarding research paper proposals:
University of Massachusetts:
USC Library Guide: