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Writing a research proposal

Guidance for a research proposal
Man writing

Before you begin your research, it is important to make clear your reasons for undertaking your research, your research questions, the methods you will use to collect and analyse data, and any ethical issues that may arise. The easiest way to do this is in the form of a research proposal.

If you wish to apply for funding for your research, you will also need a research proposal. In addition, if you wish to obtain ethical approval for your research from an ethics committee associated with your research, you will also need to attach a research proposal. In the next step, we will think about ethical issues and what you need to include in a proposal.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal can take many forms and can be challenging to write. However, simplicity is the best policy in these cases. A research proposal should answer these 3 questions:

  • WHAT?
  • WHY?
  • HOW?


To answer this question, write a short paragraph explaining what your research is about. For example:

This research will explore ways of supporting young Syrian refugees in Lebanon to develop vocational skills. It will collect information from 18- and 19-year old Syrian refugees and vocational teachers and trainers. The aim of the research is to find out what topics and modes of study are most attractive to young Syrian refugees.


To answer this question, write a statement explaining the background to the issue – why it is important to research. End this section with your research question that the research will answer. For example:
The small country of Lebanon has the highest proportion of refugees in relation the general population in the world. Young Syrian refugees have often had their education disrupted and experience severe restrictions on employment in Lebanon. In order to develop skills for employment now and in the future, young Syrians need access to vocational training. However, interrupted schooling and conditions of employment means that vocational education and training needs to be handled sensitively.
The research question is: How can we most effectively support Syrian refugees aged 18-19 to develop vocational skills?


This question requires you to specify how you will answer your research question – that is, to identify the research methods you will use. For example,
The research methods will be individual semi-structured interviews with 18 and 19 year old Syrian refugees, local employers and entrepreneurs, and refugees aged 18 and 19. The interview questions will ask about the kinds of training that are most important for refugees and the best way of learning these skills.

Over to you

You will have an opportunity to submit your own research proposal using these headings for review by your peers on this courses in 3.5. You will also be asked to give feedback on others’ proposals. To get ready for this, think about what feedback you would give if you were reviewing the research proposal given as an example above using the following criteria. These criteria will be the same for the peer review exercise:

  • There are sufficient details to understand what the project will do
  • It is clear why the research question is important
  • The methods are appropriate to answer the research question

Reply to other comments to identify issues to consider when reviewing research proposals.

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