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- How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on January 3, 2023.
A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:
- Research design
While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.
Table of contents
Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, frequently asked questions about research proposals.
Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .
In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.
Research proposal length
The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.
One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.
Download our research proposal template
Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.
- Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
- Example research proposal #2: “Making Healthy Connections: Mentoring, Monitoring and Measurement”
- Example research proposal #3: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
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Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:
- The proposed title of your project
- Your supervisor’s name
- Your institution and department
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.
Your introduction should:
- Introduce your topic
- Give necessary background and context
- Outline your problem statement and research questions
To guide your introduction , include information about:
- Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
- How much is already known about the topic
- What is missing from this current knowledge
- What new insights your research will contribute
- Why you believe this research is worth doing
As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.
In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:
- Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
- Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
- Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship
Following the literature review, restate your main objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.
To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.
For example, your results might have implications for:
- Improving best practices
- Informing policymaking decisions
- Strengthening a theory or model
- Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
- Creating a basis for future research
Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .
Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.
Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.
Download our research schedule template
If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.
Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:
- Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
- Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
- Source : how did you calculate the amount?
To determine your budget, think about:
- Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
- Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
- Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?
Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .
Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.
I will compare …
A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.
Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.
Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.
The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.
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The Craft of Writing a Strong Hypothesis
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Writing a hypothesis is one of the essential elements of a scientific research paper. It needs to be to the point, clearly communicating what your research is trying to accomplish. A blurry, drawn-out, or complexly-structured hypothesis can confuse your readers. Or worse, the editor and peer reviewers.
A captivating hypothesis is not too intricate. This blog will take you through the process so that, by the end of it, you have a better idea of how to convey your research paper's intent in just one sentence.
What is a Hypothesis?
The first step in your scientific endeavor, a hypothesis, is a strong, concise statement that forms the basis of your research. It is not the same as a thesis statement , which is a brief summary of your research paper.
The sole purpose of a hypothesis is to predict your paper's findings, data, and conclusion. It comes from a place of curiosity and intuition . When you write a hypothesis, you're essentially making an educated guess based on scientific prejudices and evidence, which is further proven or disproven through the scientific method.
The reason for undertaking research is to observe a specific phenomenon. A hypothesis, therefore, lays out what the said phenomenon is. And it does so through two variables, an independent and dependent variable.
The independent variable is the cause behind the observation, while the dependent variable is the effect of the cause. A good example of this is “mixing red and blue forms purple.” In this hypothesis, mixing red and blue is the independent variable as you're combining the two colors at your own will. The formation of purple is the dependent variable as, in this case, it is conditional to the independent variable.
Different Types of Hypotheses
Types of hypotheses
Some would stand by the notion that there are only two types of hypotheses: a Null hypothesis and an Alternative hypothesis. While that may have some truth to it, it would be better to fully distinguish the most common forms as these terms come up so often, which might leave you out of context.
Apart from Null and Alternative, there are Complex, Simple, Directional, Non-Directional, Statistical, and Associative and casual hypotheses. They don't necessarily have to be exclusive, as one hypothesis can tick many boxes, but knowing the distinctions between them will make it easier for you to construct your own.
1. Null hypothesis
A null hypothesis proposes no relationship between two variables. Denoted by H 0 , it is a negative statement like “Attending physiotherapy sessions does not affect athletes' on-field performance.” Here, the author claims physiotherapy sessions have no effect on on-field performances. Even if there is, it's only a coincidence.
2. Alternative hypothesis
Considered to be the opposite of a null hypothesis, an alternative hypothesis is donated as H1 or Ha. It explicitly states that the dependent variable affects the independent variable. A good alternative hypothesis example is “Attending physiotherapy sessions improves athletes' on-field performance.” or “Water evaporates at 100 °C. ” The alternative hypothesis further branches into directional and non-directional.
- Directional hypothesis: A hypothesis that states the result would be either positive or negative is called directional hypothesis. It accompanies H1 with either the ‘<' or ‘>' sign.
- Non-directional hypothesis: A non-directional hypothesis only claims an effect on the dependent variable. It does not clarify whether the result would be positive or negative. The sign for a non-directional hypothesis is ‘≠.'
3. Simple hypothesis
A simple hypothesis is a statement made to reflect the relation between exactly two variables. One independent and one dependent. Consider the example, “Smoking is a prominent cause of lung cancer." The dependent variable, lung cancer, is dependent on the independent variable, smoking.
4. Complex hypothesis
In contrast to a simple hypothesis, a complex hypothesis implies the relationship between multiple independent and dependent variables. For instance, “Individuals who eat more fruits tend to have higher immunity, lesser cholesterol, and high metabolism.” The independent variable is eating more fruits, while the dependent variables are higher immunity, lesser cholesterol, and high metabolism.
5. Associative and casual hypothesis
Associative and casual hypotheses don't exhibit how many variables there will be. They define the relationship between the variables. In an associative hypothesis, changing any one variable, dependent or independent, affects others. In a casual hypothesis, the independent variable directly affects the dependent.
6. Empirical hypothesis
Also referred to as the working hypothesis, an empirical hypothesis claims a theory's validation via experiments and observation. This way, the statement appears justifiable and different from a wild guess.
Say, the hypothesis is “Women who take iron tablets face a lesser risk of anemia than those who take vitamin B12.” This is an example of an empirical hypothesis where the researcher the statement after assessing a group of women who take iron tablets and charting the findings.
7. Statistical hypothesis
The point of a statistical hypothesis is to test an already existing hypothesis by studying a population sample. Hypothesis like “44% of the Indian population belong in the age group of 22-27.” leverage evidence to prove or disprove a particular statement.
Characteristics of a Good Hypothesis
Writing a hypothesis is essential as it can make or break your research for you. That includes your chances of getting published in a journal. So when you're designing one, keep an eye out for these pointers:
- A research hypothesis has to be simple yet clear to look justifiable enough.
- It has to be testable — your research would be rendered pointless if too far-fetched into reality or limited by technology.
- It has to be precise about the results —what you are trying to do and achieve through it should come out in your hypothesis.
- A research hypothesis should be self-explanatory, leaving no doubt in the reader's mind.
- If you are developing a relational hypothesis, you need to include the variables and establish an appropriate relationship among them.
- A hypothesis must keep and reflect the scope for further investigations and experiments.
Separating a Hypothesis from a Prediction
Outside of academia, hypothesis and prediction are often used interchangeably. In research writing, this is not only confusing but also incorrect. And although a hypothesis and prediction are guesses at their core, there are many differences between them.
A hypothesis is an educated guess or even a testable prediction validated through research. It aims to analyze the gathered evidence and facts to define a relationship between variables and put forth a logical explanation behind the nature of events.
Predictions are assumptions or expected outcomes made without any backing evidence. They are more fictionally inclined regardless of where they originate from.
For this reason, a hypothesis holds much more weight than a prediction. It sticks to the scientific method rather than pure guesswork. "Planets revolve around the Sun." is an example of a hypothesis as it is previous knowledge and observed trends. Additionally, we can test it through the scientific method.
Whereas "COVID-19 will be eradicated by 2030." is a prediction. Even though it results from past trends, we can't prove or disprove it. So, the only way this gets validated is to wait and watch if COVID-19 cases end by 2030.
Finally, How to Write a Hypothesis
Quick tips on writing a hypothesis
1. Be clear about your research question
A hypothesis should instantly address the research question or the problem statement. To do so, you need to ask a question. Understand the constraints of your undertaken research topic and then formulate a simple and topic-centric problem. Only after that can you develop a hypothesis and further test for evidence.
2. Carry out a recce
Once you have your research's foundation laid out, it would be best to conduct preliminary research. Go through previous theories, academic papers, data, and experiments before you start curating your research hypothesis. It will give you an idea of your hypothesis's viability or originality.
Making use of references from relevant research papers helps draft a good research hypothesis. SciSpace Discover offers a repository of over 270 million research papers to browse through and gain a deeper understanding of related studies on a particular topic. Additionally, you can use SciSpace Copilot , your AI research assistant, for reading any lengthy research paper and getting a more summarized context of it. A hypothesis can be formed after evaluating many such summarized research papers. Copilot also offers explanations for theories and equations, explains paper in simplified version, allows you to highlight any text in the paper or clip math equations and tables and provides a deeper, clear understanding of what is being said. This can improve the hypothesis by helping you identify potential research gaps.
3. Create a 3-dimensional hypothesis
Variables are an essential part of any reasonable hypothesis. So, identify your independent and dependent variable(s) and form a correlation between them. The ideal way to do this is to write the hypothetical assumption in the ‘if-then' form. If you use this form, make sure that you state the predefined relationship between the variables.
In another way, you can choose to present your hypothesis as a comparison between two variables. Here, you must specify the difference you expect to observe in the results.
4. Write the first draft
Now that everything is in place, it's time to write your hypothesis. For starters, create the first draft. In this version, write what you expect to find from your research.
Clearly separate your independent and dependent variables and the link between them. Don't fixate on syntax at this stage. The goal is to ensure your hypothesis addresses the issue.
5. Proof your hypothesis
After preparing the first draft of your hypothesis, you need to inspect it thoroughly. It should tick all the boxes, like being concise, straightforward, relevant, and accurate. Your final hypothesis has to be well-structured as well.
Research projects are an exciting and crucial part of being a scholar. And once you have your research question, you need a great hypothesis to begin conducting research. Thus, knowing how to write a hypothesis is very important.
Now that you have a firmer grasp on what a good hypothesis constitutes, the different kinds there are, and what process to follow, you will find it much easier to write your hypothesis, which ultimately helps your research.
Now it's easier than ever to streamline your research workflow with SciSpace Discover . Its integrated, comprehensive end-to-end platform for research allows scholars to easily discover, write and publish their research and fosters collaboration.
It includes everything you need, including a repository of over 270 million research papers across disciplines, SEO-optimized summaries and public profiles to show your expertise and experience.
If you found these tips on writing a research hypothesis useful, head over to our blog on Statistical Hypothesis Testing to learn about the top researchers, papers, and institutions in this domain.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. what is the definition of hypothesis.
According to the Oxford dictionary, a hypothesis is defined as “An idea or explanation of something that is based on a few known facts, but that has not yet been proved to be true or correct”.
2. What is an example of hypothesis?
The hypothesis is a statement that proposes a relationship between two or more variables. An example: "If we increase the number of new users who join our platform by 25%, then we will see an increase in revenue."
3. What is an example of null hypothesis?
A null hypothesis is a statement that there is no relationship between two variables. The null hypothesis is written as H0. The null hypothesis states that there is no effect. For example, if you're studying whether or not a particular type of exercise increases strength, your null hypothesis will be "there is no difference in strength between people who exercise and people who don't."
4. What are the types of research?
• Fundamental research
• Applied research
• Qualitative research
• Quantitative research
• Mixed research
• Exploratory research
• Longitudinal research
• Cross-sectional research
• Field research
• Laboratory research
• Fixed research
• Flexible research
• Action research
• Policy research
• Classification research
• Comparative research
• Causal research
• Inductive research
• Deductive research
5. How to write a hypothesis?
• Your hypothesis should be able to predict the relationship and outcome.
• Avoid wordiness by keeping it simple and brief.
• Your hypothesis should contain observable and testable outcomes.
• Your hypothesis should be relevant to the research question.
6. What are the 2 types of hypothesis?
• Null hypotheses are used to test the claim that "there is no difference between two groups of data".
• Alternative hypotheses test the claim that "there is a difference between two data groups".
7. Difference between research question and research hypothesis?
A research question is a broad, open-ended question you will try to answer through your research. A hypothesis is a statement based on prior research or theory that you expect to be true due to your study. Example - Research question: What are the factors that influence the adoption of the new technology? Research hypothesis: There is a positive relationship between age, education and income level with the adoption of the new technology.
8. What is plural for hypothesis?
The plural of hypothesis is hypotheses. Here's an example of how it would be used in a statement, "Numerous well-considered hypotheses are presented in this part, and they are supported by tables and figures that are well-illustrated."
9. What is the red queen hypothesis?
The red queen hypothesis in evolutionary biology states that species must constantly evolve to avoid extinction because if they don't, they will be outcompeted by other species that are evolving. Leigh Van Valen first proposed it in 1973; since then, it has been tested and substantiated many times.
10. Who is known as the father of null hypothesis?
The father of the null hypothesis is Sir Ronald Fisher. He published a paper in 1925 that introduced the concept of null hypothesis testing, and he was also the first to use the term itself.
11. When to reject null hypothesis?
You need to find a significant difference between your two populations to reject the null hypothesis. You can determine that by running statistical tests such as an independent sample t-test or a dependent sample t-test. You should reject the null hypothesis if the p-value is less than 0.05.
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How to Write a Hypothesis
Published by Alaxendra Bets at August 14th, 2021 , Revised On January 5, 2023
What is a Research Hypothesis?
You can test a research statement with the help of experimental or theoretical research, known as a hypothesis.
If you want to find out the similarities, differences, and relationships between variables, you must write a testable hypothesis before compiling the data, performing analysis, and generating results to complete.
The data analysis and findings will help you test the hypothesis and see whether it is true or false. Here is all you need to know about how to write a hypothesis for a dissertation .
Research Hypothesis Definition
Not sure what the meaning of the research hypothesis is? A research hypothesis predicts an answer to the research question based on existing theoretical knowledge or experimental data.
Some studies may have multiple hypothesis statements depending upon the research question(s). A research hypothesis must be based on formulas, facts, and theories. It should be testable by data analysis, observations, experiments, or other scientific methodologies that can refute or support the statement.
Variables in Hypotheses
Developing a hypothesis is easy. Most research studies have two or more variables in the hypothesis, particularly studies involving correlational and experimental research. The researcher can control or change the independent variable(s) while measuring and observing the independent variable(s).
“How long a student sleeps affects test scores.”
In the above statement, the dependent variable is the test score, while the independent variable is the length of time spent in sleep. Developing a hypothesis will be easy if you know your research’s dependent and independent variables.
Once you have developed a thesis statement, questions such as how to write a hypothesis for the dissertation and how to test a research hypothesis become pretty straightforward.
Looking for dissertation help?
Research prospect to the rescue then.
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Developing a Hypothesis
Here are the steps involved in how to write a hypothesis for a dissertation.
Ask a Question
A research question is a starting step for writing a research hypothesis in a dissertation. The question should be re-searchable within the given constraints. It should also be specific, focused, and answerable within the given time frame.
You will be able to write a perfect hypothesis when you have adequate knowledge about the topic. Make sure to acquire as much knowledge as possible on the topic you are exploring.
You can also create some conceptual formats to identify the variables and the relationship between them.
Formulate Your Hypothesis
Do you have a testable and specific hypothesis? If not, then make sure your hypothesis:
- Includes variables according to the research problem you wish to address
- Is relevant to your area of study
- Incorporates the expected outcome
Three Ways to Phrase a Hypothesis
Try to use “if”… and “then”… to identify the variables. The independent variable should be present in the first part of the hypothesis, while the dependent variable will form the second part of the statement. Consider understanding the below research hypothesis example to create a specific, clear, and concise research hypothesis;
If an obese lady starts attending Zomba fitness classes, her health will improve.
In academic research, you can write the predicted variable relationship directly because most research studies correlate terms.
The number of Zomba fitness classes attended by the obese lady has a positive effect on health.
If your research compares two groups, then you can develop a hypothesis statement on their differences.
An obese lady who attended most Zumba fitness classes will have better health than those who attended a few.
How to Write a Null Hypothesis
If a statistical analysis is involved in your research, then you must create a null hypothesis. If you find any relationship between the variables, then the null hypothesis will be the default position that there is no relationship between them. H0 is the symbol for the null hypothesis, while the hypothesis is represented as H1. The null hypothesis will also answer your question, “how to test the research hypothesis in the dissertation.”
H0: The number of Zumba fitness classes attended by the obese lady does not affect health.
H1: The number of Zumba fitness classes attended by the obese lady positively affects health.
Also see: Your Dissertation in Education
How Can Research Prospect Help?
If you are unsure about how to rest a research hypothesis in a dissertation or simply unsure about how to develop a hypothesis for your research, then you can take advantage of our dissertation services which cover every tiny aspect of a dissertation project you might need help with including but not limited to setting up a hypothesis and research questions, help with individual chapters , full dissertation writing , statistical analysis , and much more.
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The research question stems from the issue under consideration. When put in a single sentence , the research question represents your research hypothesis . In certain fields , the hypothesis is referred to as a "thesis statement." Other synonyms for "hypothesized" are "posted," "theorized," and "offered." A hypothesis must be specific and measurable if it is to serve as the basis for scientific investigation.
Asking questions is an important tool for discovering new knowledge. Asking good questions helps researchers avoid missing important issues and allows them to focus their efforts on the most relevant problems. Good questions also reflect a deeper understanding of the topic being investigated. A series of questions can form the framework for a study or project. These questions are known as study objectives. Each objective should be written in plain language so that anyone can understand it. The goals then can be used to guide the research process and ensure that enough information is gathered to make conclusions about its subject.
Good questions are like eyes on the road: They allow researchers to see what's around the next corner. Also, by considering the possible answers to a question, researchers can explore different perspectives on an issue. This exercise can help them find alternative ways to approach a problem and learn more about its roots. Finally, asking questions is a great way to get feedback from others about your ideas or concepts. This can help identify weaknesses in your argument or areas where more information is needed.
Table of Contents
What are the hypotheses in a research proposal, what kind of research is a hypothesis, what must a scientist do before writing a hypothesis.
A research hypothesis is a declaration of expectation or prediction that will be put to the test through study. Read about the topic of interest to you before developing your study hypothesis. You should always read other people's research proposals before submitting your own. Doing so will help you identify effective ways of expressing yourself and may even provide ideas for new studies.
Formulating a good research hypothesis is not an easy task. It involves considering what is known about the topic and then making a judgment as to whether the existing knowledge justifies expecting a difference when testing things out. For example, if there are many previous studies on a subject then it is likely that no difference will be found even if one exists. If there are very few previous studies then this might indicate that something new can be discovered.
In scientific papers , researchers often explain how they intend to test their hypotheses. This may involve using controlled experiments or case studies. In general, studies that use experimental methods are better at disproving theories than those that use observational methods. Observational studies can show associations between two things while experimental studies can actually prove cause and effect. However, both types of study are important for understanding topics because neither experiment nor observation alone provides sufficient information to do so.
A research hypothesis is a definite, explicit, and testable claim or prediction regarding the likely outcome of a scientific research study based on a certain attribute of a population, such as assumed disparities between groups on a given variable or correlations between variables. The goal is to predict what will happen in the study based on knowledge about how things are in general.
Hypotheses can be either affirmative or negative. An affirmative hypothesis states that there is a causal relationship between two factors ; it can also be called an effect hypothesis. A negative hypothesis states that there is no causal relationship between two factors; it can also be called a cause hypothesis. For example, one might hypothesize that there is a correlation between income and happiness because higher incomes are generally associated with greater satisfaction with one's life.
Hypotheses are used by scientists when they want to know if there is enough evidence to support a conclusion or not. If enough evidence does not exist, then more research should be done; otherwise, the scientist may choose to accept the conclusion even though more evidence is needed.
In science , a hypothesis is any statement of purpose for which data are collected with the intention of determining its truth or falsity. Science requires this open-endedness because new findings can always change our understanding of the world, thereby requiring revision of all previously published hypotheses .
Before you can develop a hypothesis , you must first identify the question you want to investigate. A hypothesis is a statement rather than a question. The scientific question in your study is not your hypothesis. A hypothesis is a well-informed, tested forecast about what will occur. It is a prediction based on evidence found in the literature or through research studies.
A good hypothesis should be specific and answerable. Be as specific as possible without being too general. Use the past tense to describe your hypothesis . For example, instead of saying "All flowers love sunlight," say "Sunlight is needed by all flowers to grow." This makes your hypothesis more accurate and less likely to be rejected out of hand. Avoid vague hypotheses ! They are difficult or impossible to test properly. Consider changing your hypothesis if you find evidence that calls its validity into question.
Finally, a good hypothesis should be able to be tested. If you cannot test your hypothesis, it will remain just an idea. Even if you do test it and find support for it, this does not necessarily mean that other researchers will find the same results . Null hypotheses , where no effect is expected, require additional statistical tests to determine whether the findings were due to chance. For example, if you randomly select 100 students from a university population and then measure how many have children, there is a 25% chance that the sample will include exactly one child.
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Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal
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The importance of a well-written research proposal cannot be underestimated. Your research really is only as good as your proposal. A poorly written, or poorly conceived research proposal will doom even an otherwise worthy project. On the other hand, a well-written, high-quality proposal will increase your chances for success.
In this article, we’ll outline the basics of writing an effective scientific research proposal, including the differences between research proposals, grants and cover letters. We’ll also touch on common mistakes made when submitting research proposals, as well as a simple example or template that you can follow.
What is a scientific research proposal?
The main purpose of a scientific research proposal is to convince your audience that your project is worthwhile, and that you have the expertise and wherewithal to complete it. The elements of an effective research proposal mirror those of the research process itself, which we’ll outline below. Essentially, the research proposal should include enough information for the reader to determine if your proposed study is worth pursuing.
It is not an uncommon misunderstanding to think that a research proposal and a cover letter are the same things. However, they are different. The main difference between a research proposal vs cover letter content is distinct. Whereas the research proposal summarizes the proposal for future research, the cover letter connects you to the research, and how you are the right person to complete the proposed research.
There is also sometimes confusion around a research proposal vs grant application. Whereas a research proposal is a statement of intent, related to answering a research question, a grant application is a specific request for funding to complete the research proposed. Of course, there are elements of overlap between the two documents; it’s the purpose of the document that defines one or the other.
Scientific Research Proposal Format
Although there is no one way to write a scientific research proposal, there are specific guidelines. A lot depends on which journal you’re submitting your research proposal to, so you may need to follow their scientific research proposal template.
In general, however, there are fairly universal sections to every scientific research proposal. These include:
- Title: Make sure the title of your proposal is descriptive and concise. Make it catch and informative at the same time, avoiding dry phrases like, “An investigation…” Your title should pique the interest of the reader.
- Abstract: This is a brief (300-500 words) summary that includes the research question, your rationale for the study, and any applicable hypothesis. You should also include a brief description of your methodology, including procedures, samples, instruments, etc.
- Introduction: The opening paragraph of your research proposal is, perhaps, the most important. Here you want to introduce the research problem in a creative way, and demonstrate your understanding of the need for the research. You want the reader to think that your proposed research is current, important and relevant.
- Background: Include a brief history of the topic and link it to a contemporary context to show its relevance for today. Identify key researchers and institutions also looking at the problem
- Literature Review: This is the section that may take the longest amount of time to assemble. Here you want to synthesize prior research, and place your proposed research into the larger picture of what’s been studied in the past. You want to show your reader that your work is original, and adds to the current knowledge.
- Research Design and Methodology: This section should be very clearly and logically written and organized. You are letting your reader know that you know what you are going to do, and how. The reader should feel confident that you have the skills and knowledge needed to get the project done.
- Preliminary Implications: Here you’ll be outlining how you anticipate your research will extend current knowledge in your field. You might also want to discuss how your findings will impact future research needs.
- Conclusion: This section reinforces the significance and importance of your proposed research, and summarizes the entire proposal.
- References/Citations: Of course, you need to include a full and accurate list of any and all sources you used to write your research proposal.
Common Mistakes in Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal
Remember, the best research proposal can be rejected if it’s not well written or is ill-conceived. The most common mistakes made include:
- Not providing the proper context for your research question or the problem
- Failing to reference landmark/key studies
- Losing focus of the research question or problem
- Not accurately presenting contributions by other researchers and institutions
- Incompletely developing a persuasive argument for the research that is being proposed
- Misplaced attention on minor points and/or not enough detail on major issues
- Sloppy, low-quality writing without effective logic and flow
- Incorrect or lapses in references and citations, and/or references not in proper format
- The proposal is too long – or too short
Scientific Research Proposal Example
There are countless examples that you can find for successful research proposals. In addition, you can also find examples of unsuccessful research proposals. Search for successful research proposals in your field, and even for your target journal, to get a good idea on what specifically your audience may be looking for.
While there’s no one example that will show you everything you need to know, looking at a few will give you a good idea of what you need to include in your own research proposal. Talk, also, to colleagues in your field, especially if you are a student or a new researcher. We can often learn from the mistakes of others. The more prepared and knowledgeable you are prior to writing your research proposal, the more likely you are to succeed.
Language Editing Services
One of the top reasons scientific research proposals are rejected is due to poor logic and flow. Check out our Language Editing Services to ensure a great proposal , that’s clear and concise, and properly referenced. Check our video for more information, and get started today.
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The abstract should summarize your proposal. Include one sentence to introduce the problem you are investigating, why this problem is significant, the hypothesis to be tested, a brief summary of experiments that you wish to conduct and a single concluding sentence. (500 word limit)
The introduction discusses the background and significance of the problem you are investigating. Lead the reader from the general to the specific. For example, if you want to write about the role that Brca1 mutations play in breast cancer pathogenesis, talk first about the significance of breast cancer as a disease in the US/world population, then about familial breast cancer as a small subset of breast cancers in general, then about discovery of Brca1 mutations in familial breast cancer, then Brca1’s normal functions in DNA repair, then about how Brca1 mutations result in damaged DNA and onset of familial breast cancer, etc. Definitely include figures with properly labeled text boxes (designated as Figure 1, Figure 2, etc) here to better illustrate your points and help your reader wade through unfamiliar science.
Formulate a hypothesis that will be tested in your grant proposal. Remember, you are doing hypothesis-driven research so there should be a hypothesis to be tested! The hypothesis should be focused, concise and flow logically from the introduction. For example, your hypothesis could be “I hypothesize that overexpressing wild type Brca1 in Brca1 null tumor cells will prevent metastatic spread in a mouse xenograph model.” Based on your hypothesis, your Specific Aims section should be geared to support it. The hypothesis is stated in one sentence in the proposal.
Specific Aims (listed as Specific Aim 1, Specific Aim 2)
This is where you will want to work with your mentor to craft the experimental portion of your proposal. Propose two original specific aims to test your hypothesis. Don’t propose more than two aims-you will NOT have enough time to do more. In the example presented, Specific Aim 1 might be “To determine the oncogenic potential of Brca1 null cell lines expressing wild type Brca1 cDNA”. Specific aim 2 might be “To determine the metastatic potential of Brca1 null cells that express WT Brca1”. You do not have to go into extensive technical details, just enough for the reader to understand what you propose to do. The best aims yield mechanistic insights-that is, experiments proposed address some mechanisms of biology. A less desirable aim proposes correlative experiments that does not address mechanistically how BRCA1 mutations generate cancer. It is also very important that the two aims are related but NOT interdependent. What this means is that if Aim 1 doesn’t work, Aim 2 is not automatically dead. For example, say you propose in Aim 1 to generate a BRCA1 knockout mouse model, and in Aim 2 you will take tissues from this mouse to do experiments. If knocking out BRCA1 results in early embryonic death, you will never get a mouse that yields tissues for Aim 2. You can include some of your mentor’s data here as “Preliminary data”. Remember to carefully cite all your sources.
Potential pitfalls and alternative strategies
This is a very important part of any proposal. This is where you want to discuss the experiments you propose in Aims 1 and 2. Remember, no experiment is perfect. Are there any reasons why experiments you proposed might not work? Why? What will you do to resolve this? What are other possible strategies you might use if your experiments don’t work? If a reviewer spots these deficiencies and you don’t propose methods to correct them, your proposal will not get funded. You will want to work with your mentor to write this section.
Cite all references, including unpublished data from your mentor. Last, First, (year), Title, Journal, volume, pages.
*8 page proposal limit (not including References), 1.5 spacing, 12pt Times New Roman font
- View an example of a research proposal submitted for the Yale College First-Year Summer Research Fellowship (PDF).
- View an example of a research proposal submitted for the Yale College Dean’s Research Fellowship and the Rosenfeld Science Scholars Program (PDF) .
Developing a hypothesis (with example) Step 1. Ask a question Writing a hypothesis begins with a research question that you want to answer. The question should... Step 2. Do some preliminary research Your initial answer to the question should be based on what is already known about... Step 3. ...
How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates. Research proposal purpose. Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a ... Research proposal examples. Title page. Introduction. Literature review.
A hypothesis should instantly address the research question or the problem statement. To do so, you need to ask a question. Understand the constraints of your undertaken research topic and then formulate a simple and topic-centric problem. Only after that can you develop a hypothesis and further test for evidence. 2. Carry out a recce
A research hypothesis predicts an answer to the research question based on existing theoretical knowledge or experimental data. Some studies may have multiple hypothesis statements depending upon the research question (s). A research hypothesis must be based on formulas, facts, and theories.
A research hypothesis is a declaration of expectation or prediction that will be put to the test through study. Read about the topic of interest to you before developing your study hypothesis. You should always read other people's research proposals before submitting your own.
You want the reader to think that your proposed research is current, important and relevant. Background: Include a brief history of the topic and link it to a contemporary context to show its relevance for today. Identify key researchers and institutions also looking at the problem
The abstract should summarize your proposal. Include one sentence to introduce the problem you are investigating, why this problem is significant, the hypothesis to be tested, a brief summary of experiments that you wish to conduct and a single concluding sentence. (500 word limit) Introduction