How to Structure Your Research Proposal


In my previous post I shared with you some hints on how to write your research proposal and how to present it orally. I also discussed the purposes of the research proposal.

Here is a summary of purposes that I discussed:

  1. To convince the university that your study is viable.
  2. To serve as a structure for your thesis or dissertation.
  3. To clarify your mind.
  4. To show how you will approach the problem.
  5. To help you choose a research method.
  6. To decide what sources of information you should use.

In this post I will share with you some ideas on how to structure your research proposal so that the Research Committee will be convinced that your idea is a good one.

The structure of your research proposal

Most universities will require of you to cover the following in your research proposal (show the list on the screen):

  1. A title for your research report.
  2. Table of contents.
  3. The context of the research.
  4. The goals of your study.
  5. Research approaches and methods.
  6. The table of content for your research report.
  7. Bibliography.
  8. Endnotes and footnotes.

What you write and discuss under each of these eight points will determine if your application to study for a PhD will succeed or not.

Let’s look at the eight points.

A title for your research report

  1. The title should be brief and descriptive.
  2. Professors might suggest a different title.
  3. Can change at any time during your studies – check with your study leader.

Table of contents for your proposal. The table of contents should give an overview of all the topics that you will cover in your research proposal.

The context of the research

  1. The context can also serve as the scope or limits of your research.
  2. This will largely determine if your proposed study is viable.

The goals of your study

  1. This section should start with the purpose of your research followed by the goals that you hope to achieve.
  2. The goals and purpose of your study will determine the value of your study.

Research approaches and methods

  1. Your research approach can be quantitative, qualitative or mixed.
  2. Your choice will depend on your personal preference, research skills and the topic of your research.
  3. You will probably also indicate which paradigmatic approach or approaches you will follow here.

The table of contents for your research report

  1. The table of contents should provide an outline of your chapters.
  2. It can also serve as the scope for your research.


  1. Your bibliography cannot possibly be complete and final yet.
  2. List the sources that you already consulted or plan on consulting.
  3. You will probably need to consult more sources, most of which you are not aware of yet.

Endnotes and footnotes

  1. You will not have a heading for endnotes and footnotes.
  2. They are used to explain terminology, to make incidental comments or to amplify or corroborate a point of argument.

Close and summary

In summary, do not underestimate the importance of preparing for the oral presentation of your study proposal. What you write and present will determine if the university will allow you to study for a PhD.

You need to know what you should discuss, and you need to do it well. That is why I will share with you in future posts hints on how to write and present every issue that you need to cover in your study proposal.

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