If you are going to undertake a comprehensive research project, your professor may ask you to first submit a research proposal. Although ‘proposal’ may have a strong association with the grant application process—which can involve pages of assessment, evaluation, and justification—the research proposal merely offers an outline of your project. Moreover, it has the added benefit of convincing your professor that you do know what you are doing, that you have seriously considered your topic and that you are prepared to commit a semester or a year to completing this. In addition, if you hope to continue your work in academia where so much is dependant on grant money, you may as well get accustomed to writing these now.
Without further ado, here is your short answer on how to put together a research proposal.
Become an Expert on Your Subject
At this stage of the game, you already know exactly what you want to research. However, at this point, you do not know exactly how you are going to pull this together. The first step is to absorb everything you can on the subject. Academic books, peer-reviewed journals, documentaries, and news stories will form the bulk of your working bibliography at this time. In sociology, observational bias plays a role thus the only way to establish some approximation of truth would be to compile as many reliable sources as possible. Now that you are a human encyclopedia (at least on your topic), you are now ready to make your proposal.
Putting Your Proposal Together
- Make sure that you have a short, but descriptive title. A smart, but pithy title will make your professors more excited about your research.
- Your abstract will be approximately 300 words long. These will include your question, hypothesis, relevance of the study, methods, and existing findings you want to reconcile.
- The introduction will provide background information and context for your research, and is a forum for you to elaborate on the relevance of your project.
- Your review of the literature will solidify your context, and shows your ability to critically engage and integrate multiple sources with respect to your novel idea.
- The methods section will discuss your research design, procedure, participants (if any) and the selection process.
- Results—since this is a proposal, you will not have any results yet, but you might want to write about what you might expect as well as mention any analysis procedures you will use.
- The conclusion will underscore the importance of your research and re-emphasize the existing gaps in the literature, but do not pour it on too thick.
In order for your professor to sign off on the project you proposed, you would want to provide her with a representative list of references. A complete list is not required this early in the research process. However, you would need to find the best sources possible to show that your project is valid and that the field is not ‘full.’ Your professor will most likely ask that you complete the paper in APA as the author-date citation style is generally more favored by social scientists than the author-work style of MLA. To make sure that all in-text references and the bibliography are properly formatted, consult the latest style-guide, which is available at the local library, bookstore, or Amazon.com.