Health Research Proposal Writing Guide

When you write a proposal it is usually for a formal health related research effort assigned either as part of your academic work such as a research paper or as part of your degree completion such as for an undergraduate dissertation, thesis or doctoral dissertation. The quality of your research proposal is critical to the future success of your final research effort. What you provide in the proposal is what you will be expected to follow as you carry out your research and prepare your finished product.

This guide will help take the mystery and fear out of the project and break it down into a meaningful and simple formula for you to follow.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal for a health research effort is a short document that highlights your topic and the method you will use to formally study something related to the topic in an effort to either confirm or test a theory or to add to a scarce or non-existent body of academic literature but that asks a specific question or questions that your research effort will attempt to answer. For example, you might know there is a plethora of information relating to uses of stem cells for neurological issues, but your topic is one where there is very little formal literature. Usually topics for research papers are assigned by your instructor. No matter what the topic, vast or limited by current research, the following sections highlight the specific sections you should have in your research proposal.


The introduction of your research proposal should draw the reader into your topic. It should provide relevant information, potentially including statistics that indicate the enormity of the problem. The research proposal should also present a modest literature review citing existing research that supports both your topic and the relevance of a project that confirms or supports existing theory or research or that presents new information to the academic world.

As with any essay, dissertation or thesis, knowing there is a solid research base from which to draw is critical to your success. Too narrow of a topic will not hinder your research proposal but when you are required to complete the entire project, a limited amount of research will significantly hinder your ability to research your topic with due diligence. Remember, only sources with academic credibility can be used.

After your literature review, you should follow with a statement of need, for example: “Based on the current literature cited, while there is a myriad of sound academic works which demonstrate the efficacy and effectiveness of radiation therapy in breast cancer. However, despite the growing “real world” evidence found in practice, few accepted academic studies have been published on the administration of radiation therapy for breast cancer in teens.

Therefore, this research proposal advocates the study of teenagers subjected to radiation therapy for breast cancer.” This should then be followed by a short section on study goals and objectives, where you will state the specifics of what you intend to study and why. Finally you should present your research question(s).

Recapping, you have introduced your topic, supported it with current literature and then stated what is missing from current literature that your formal research effort will provide, then provided your specific goals and objectives for the research effort and stated the research question you seek to answer. Each of these sections should represent their own section heads of your proposal.


This is where your imagination and creative efforts pay off. In the methodology section you state a short recap of the study you wish to conduct highlighting the specific method (phenomenological, general qualitative, quantitative, mixed method, etc.) including reasons why you have chosen this approach. Academic sources should be cited as your rationale. Once this is established, you should briefly mention who will comprise your participant base and how you will solicit participants. This should be followed by a section discussing what instruments will be used if any, why they were chosen or if you created one, etc. How results will be gathered and compiled should also be mentioned as should how your analysis will be generated. Each of these sections should represent their own section heads of your proposal.

Time table to complete your health research proposal

Your proposal should end with a brief time table, presenting estimated times for completion of the major stages of your research effort. For example:

    1. Write research proposal 1 Week January 1 – 7
    2. Prepare survey instrument 1 Week January 8 – 14
    3. Recruit participants 2 Weeks January 8 – 22 (overlapping)

Include all the major steps and times associated with completing your research effort.

Always proofread your work to make certain you are following the format required by your instructor or university, such as APA or other. Similarly, make certain your spelling of all words is correct, not simply based on your computerized spell check. Remember, there are a lot of typos you may have that pass for real words.

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