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Research Proposal

A proposal is a request for support of sponsored research, instruction, or extension projects. Good proposals have some questions about the plan, background, neediness, cost, time, and pertinent to the sponsor’s interests. It also asked for the evaluation methods of the results. Why one, rather than someone else should, is eligible for this project? The research proposal helps you to think out the research project you are about to undertake and predict any difficulties that might arise.

Purpose of a research proposal
The purpose of a proposal is to sell one’s idea to the funding agency. This means that the investigator must convince the funding agency that:

  • The problem is significant and worthy of study
  • The technical approach is novel and likely to yield results
  • The investigator and his/her research team are/are the right group of individuals to carry out and accomplish the work described in the research proposal.

Types of research proposals
In all sectors (academe, government, and the private sector), research scientists typically seek and obtain competitive funding for their research projects by writing and submitting research proposals for consideration by the funding source. There are two kinds of research proposals:

Solicited proposals are those that are written and submitted in response to the issuance of a “Request for Proposals” (RFP), a document that identifies a specific research problem of interest to the funding agency for which they are specifically seeking a solution. When a customer wants something that is too complicated to pick up at the store or orders from a vendor, they often write down a description of it and issue it as an RFP. If it is a commodity, they may issue a Request for Quotations (RFQ).  The interested investigator then submits a “concept” or “white paper” briefly outlining their proposed solution to the problem. If the funding agency or company is interested, they may then request that the investigator submit a full proposal for consideration of funding.

Unsolicited proposals are those proposals that are submitted by an investigator in response to a “general call” for proposals that are issued by a funding agency or company in a field or area of study. The majority of funding agencies issue calls for proposals that have firmly established deadlines and for which the format of the proposals is fairly well defined. Thus, it is vitally important at the outset after you have identified a funding source that you obtain all of the relevant information on the specific grant program and its requirements. Today most funding agencies have searchable websites where they post detailed information concerning their grant programs.

A proposal is a document submitted to the prospective funding source outlining the entire program, including goals, objectives, methods, timelines, expertise committed, and program budget. The terms proposal and application are often used synonymously. However, in some cases, an application form is required by the sponsor and is just one part of the entire proposal. A research proposal encompasses the following sections:

Title page
Most sponsoring agencies specify the format for the title page. Words in the title should be chosen with great care, and their association with one another must be carefully considered. While the title should be brief, it should be accurate, descriptive, and comprehensive, clearly indicating the subject of the investigation. Giving a working title of your project, which may or may not become the title of your paper. Don’t use acronyms and technical jargon as your reviewers may not come from your technical specialty.

The sponsoring agencies may use the abstract to make preliminary decisions about the proposal. An effective summary focuses on the research topic with the problem addressed by the applicant, identifies the solution, and specifies the objectives and methods of the project. This summary should also outline funding requirements and describe the applicant’s expertise.

Introduction (including a statement of the problem, the purpose of research, and significance of research):
The introduction section should make known the research problem, its significance, and the technical approach your work will take to investigate/solve the problem.

Background (including literature survey):
Be sure to (1) make clear what the research problem is and exactly what has been accomplished; (2) give evidence of your own competence in the field; and (3) show why the previous work needs to be continued. The literature review should be selective, up-to-date, and critically appraise the key literature sources. Discussions of work done by others should therefore lead the reader to a clear impression of how you will be building upon what has already been done and how your work differs from theirs.

Proposed research description (including method or approach):
A comprehensive explanation of the proposed research is needed. This section is the core of the proposal and is the primary concern of the technical reviewers. Here, the research design will be in detail, clear, and realistic about what can be accomplished. The research layout will be explicit about any assumptions or hypotheses the research method rests upon. The proposed research will be specific about the means of evaluating the data or the conclusions along with being certain that the connection between the research objectives and the research method is evident. The research plan is to spell out preliminary work developing an analytical method or laying the groundwork as Phase 1. At the end of that phase you will be able to report that you have accomplished something and are ready to undertake Phase 2 (If phases 1 and 2 are applicable).

Description of pertinent institutional resources:
In general, this section details the resources available to the proposed project and, if possible, shows why the sponsor should select this university/institute and this investigator for this particular research.

Develop a timetable (if possible in table form), indicating the sequence of research phases and the time that you will probably need for each phase. Take into account that at this stage, it can only be estimated, but make clear that you have an idea about the time span that will be needed for each step.

The style of the bibliographical item itself depends on the disciplinary field. The main consideration is consistency; whatever style is chosen should be followed scrupulously throughout.

This section usually consists of two parts: an explanation of the proposed personnel arrangements and the biographical data sheets for each of the main contributors to the project. The explanation should specify how many persons at what percentage of time and in what academic categories will be participating in the project. If the program is complex and involves people from other departments or colleges, the organization of the staff and the lines of responsibility should be made clear. Any student participation, paid or unpaid, should be mentioned, and the nature of the proposed contribution detailed. If any persons must be hired for the project, say so, and explain why, unless the need for persons not already available within the University is self-evident.

Sponsors customarily specify how budgets should be presented and what costs are allowable. The budget delineates the costs to be met by the funding source, including personnel, non-personnel, administrative, and overhead expenses. The budget also specifies items paid for by other funding sources. Includes justifications for requested expenditures.

Why proposals are rejected
The success of a proposal will depend both on the quality of the project itself and the quality of its presentation in the proposal. Different reviewers, of course, will weigh merits and defects differently, but there is some reason behind the rejection of the proposal as follows:

A. Problem (Significance)

  • The problem is not of sufficient importance or is unlikely to produce any new or useful information.
  • The proposed research is based on a hypothesis that rests on insufficient evidence, is doubtful, or is unsound.
  • The problem has only local significance or is one of production or control, or otherwise fails to fall sufficiently clear within the general field of health-related research.
  • The problem is scientifically premature and warrants, at most, only a pilot study.
  • The research as proposed is overly involved, with too many elements under simultaneous investigation.
  • The description of the nature of the research and of its significance leaves the proposal nebulous and diffuse and without a clear research aim.

B. Approach     

  • The proposed tests, methods, or scientific procedures are unsuited to the stated objective
  • The statistical aspects of the approach have not been given sufficient consideration.

C. Investigator

  • The investigator does not have adequate experience or training for this research.
  • The investigator appears to be unfamiliar with recent pertinent literature or methods.

D. Others

  • The requirements for equipment or personnel are unrealistic.
  • It appears that other responsibilities would prevent the devotion of sufficient time and attention to this research.
  • The institutional setting is unfavorable.

So, be careful while writing a research proposal and don’t do the following

  • Try to do too much in light of your experience and skills, the budget, the time allotted, your access to study participants (e.g., subjects), and your resources. Being “too ambitious” is a common rookie mistake, and is reflected in many of the comments above.
  • Duplicate other funded projects.
  • Resubmit a proposal without revisions in response to the reviewer’s comments
  • Submit a large research proposal without a publication history in the area
  • Write a budget that is either too small (skimping) or too large (padding) for the proposed work.

Remember, many of these “don’ts” can be identified by your peer reviewers before you submit. Best wishes!

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