Developing a Successful Research Proposal

Your research proposal demonstrates that you know the research literature in your field and describes what you will do. An effective proposal clearly explains your research question as well as identifies and analyzes the methods that you will use to perform your research. A successful research proposal must also position your research in the larger field of study and describe why it is significant. Use the following resources to help develop your proposal.

What to Include in your Research Proposal

Your research proposal usually contains the first three chapters of your thesis or dissertation as well as your references. These chapters include the following sections and should address the following questions:

  1. Introduction: What do you intend to research? You must introduce your topic clearly and succinctly providing its context, purpose, and significance as well as any limitations. You should also identify your research questions and theoretical framework.

  2. Literature Review: How is your research innovative? In the literature review you will synthesize the research literature in your field as well as situate your research in the wider context of what has been done. Your literature review provides the rationale for the proposed study.

  3. Methodology: How will you research your topic? Your methodology chapter must address your approach to the topic as well as how you will conduct your research. You should begin with your research questions, justify your approach, and then provide a detailed plan about your research. This section is a guide for your future research so it should be specific and include all of the methods and instruments that you will use to conduct your studies.

Getting your Research Proposal Approved

Getting your proposal approved is an iterative process between you, your supervisor, and your thesis/dissertation committee. To help your research gain approval you should create, with your supervisor, a plan of when to meet and how to communicate; this plan will help to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Approving a research proposal is different for each student; however, the following steps can help you to understand what is involved in having your research approved:

  1. Develop your research proposal – Writing a research proposal requires more than one draft. It is often a good idea to have a friend or peer copyedit your work before you send it to your supervisor.

  2. Work with your supervisor to revise your research proposal – You will work with your supervisor to ensure that your proposal is clear and meets the requirements for graduate research; this includes a detailed methodology chapter and sufficient work proposed to warrant a graduate degree. Completing your research proposal usually requires you to write three to four drafts.

  3. Send your research proposal to your committee member(s) – Once you and your supervisor are happy with your proposal, they will ask you to send it to your committee member(s). Your committee member(s) will review your proposal and return it to you. You will then work with your supervisor to address the revisions (this process may take more than one iteration).

  4. Get your research proposal approved – When your supervisor and committee member(s) are satisfied with your proposal, they will approve it by completing a Proposal Approval Form. Once your supervisor and committee member(s) approve your proposal, you can apply to the Research Ethics Board for permission to conduct research involving humans (as applicable).

Note: If your research involves human participants, you must gain approval by our Research Ethics Board (REB). For more information about our research integrity policies, please use the following resources:

Example of Successful Research Proposal

To help you develop your research proposal, we suggest you review the following example. This can give you an understanding of the depth and breadth of information that you need to provide:

Further Questions or Concerns

If you have further questions or concerns about your research proposal, please contact your supervisor and/or the Departmental Chair of Graduate Studies and Research in Education (as listed on the Faculty and Staff page).