Once you’ve established a clear understanding of the likely costs of your research project you’re ready to pull all your preparation together when writing your research proposal

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Preparing your research proposal

Sponsor issues

Suggested reading


Your research proposal maps out how you’d like your research project to take place. Having a clear map of your research project will keep you on track in the coming weeks and months. Your research proposal needs to persuade someone, usually your manager or potential funder, of the value of investing time and money in the research project. While no two proposals are the same, they are likely to contain similar elements:

Title: aim to be clear, concise and indicative of your research project’s purpose.

Abstract:  gives an overall impression of your project, its aims and objective, etc. This is the first thing that people will read but is likely to be the last thing you write.

Background:  presents your review of the literature (Step 2) and explains how your project will contribute to the evidence base.

Aims and objectives: These should link clearly to your research question (Step 1). Your aim will be a high-level statement of what you plan to explore, while your objectives will be focused questions that address different aspects of your aim.

Research design (Step 3): outline whether you’re undertaking a qualitative, quantitative or mixed method research project.  Explain the research methods you’ll use to collect your data, (Step 7), how you’ll analyse it (Step 8) and how you’ll disseminate the findings (Step 9). Details of your sampling strategy and data management also appear here.

Ethics (Step 6)If your research involves people you’ll almost certainly need to seek ethical approval. Key ethical issues to address include anonymity and confidentiality.

Project timeline: Set out a realistic and achievable timeline for your research project. Calculate how long you’ll need to complete each stage of your project. Remember, you don’t need to wait for one part of your project to be finished before you start the next stage. Some parts of your research can happen concurrently, e.g. reviewing your literature (Step 2) while awaiting your ethical approval (Step 6). A Gantt chart can be helpful in planning your timeline.

Project outputs & outcomes: This section can be persuasive for funders and managers. This is where you indicate what tangible outputs your research project is likely to have.  For example, disseminating your findings (Step 9) at a conference or writing and submitting a journal article. Outcomes can be harder to define but could include: greater staff awareness of library services or improving library services.

Project costs: Costs will vary depending on the size of your project but may include: wages, equipment, training, travel and dissemination.

References: Any resources referred to in your research proposal should be included in the list of references. If you’re applying for funding, follow funders’ preferred referencing style.

Appendices: This is where you can include supplementary information such as your questionnaire, interview schedule or search strategy.

Preparing your research proposal

It’s important to determine who will be reading your proposal and determining its suitability for funding. This may include members of the public or lay members of boards or committees.

Aim to write clearly and succinctly and, if available, refer to the funder information for guidance on the specific requirements of their funding application process (Step 4).

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). (2020). Making a strong application. Provides detailed advice on how to plan and develop your research application.

Sponsor issues

Research undertaken within the NHS must adhere to the Health Research Authority policy framework for health and social care research. Your local R&D Lead will be able to provide further guidance on working within this framework.

Suggested reading

Bell, J., & Waters, S. (2018). Doing your research project: a guide for first time researchers (7th ed.). London: Open University Press – practical, step-by-step guide from initial concept to completion of your research report.

Booth, A. (2000). Principles for a successful research proposalHealth Libraries Review, 17, 173-175 -provides transferable lessons on writing research proposals

Eve, J. (2009). Writing a research proposal: planning and communicating your ideas effectivelyLibrary and Information Research, 32(102), 18-28 – general guidance for anyone wishing to prepare a research proposal .

Pickton, M. (2013). Writing your project plan. In M. J. Grant, B. Sen, & H. Spring (Eds.), Research, evaluation and audit: key steps in demonstrating your value (pp. 45-64). London: Facet Publishing – highlights the similarities and differences between a research plans proposals.  Emphasises the importance of adjusting content to the needs of different audiences.

Page last reviewed: 15 June 2021