This guide gives simple and practical advice on how to write a good research proposal. Based on the “Scientific Work” lecture, it is written for PhD students in computer science, but it can also be widely used and appreciated by students in diverse fields.
Why to write a research proposal?
A research proposal provides a clear and detailed plan for the proposed research, including the research design, data collection methods, and data analysis strategies. It helps to ensure that the research is well-structured and well-organized. It also helps to minimize the risk of unexpected problems or delays during the research process. In many cases, it is a requirement for obtaining funding for a research project, e.g. your PhD. The proposal provides a detailed plan for the proposed research, including the budget and timeline, and helps to convince the funding agency that the proposed research is worth to invest. However, writing a research proposal as a PhD student can also help to clarify your PhD research, mainly the research problem and research question, and can help to make it more precise and focused.
The process of writing a research proposal can be a challenging and time-consuming task. It is recommended to ensure that you have enough time, and start the writing process at least 4-6 months in advance. To write a good proposal, you should have a clear understanding of the problem or opportunity you are addressing, and a well-defined solution. You should also be familiar with your audience and tailor your proposal to their needs and concerns.
Additionally, a good proposal should include a detailed project plan, budget, and timeline, as well as information about your qualifications and the qualifications of your team. Finally, it is important to proofread and edit your proposal carefully to ensure that it is clear, concise, and free of errors.
Structure of the proposal
The structure of a proposal can vary depending on the funding agency and the specific requirements of the announcement.
Please find following the most important points for a proposal based on my last successful proposal submission at FFG:
This should include the title of the proposal, your name and contact information, and the date. Note that the title is an important element of a research proposal. It should be clear, concise, interesting, and accurately reflect the content of the proposal. The title can help to attract readers and make the proposal more discoverable. Here are some tips to consider when crafting a title for a research proposal:
- Be specific: The title should clearly describe the main topic of the research.
- Keep it short: The title should be as short as possible. Long and wordy titles can be confusing.
- Use keywords: The title should include keywords that are relevant to the research’s content.
- Avoid jargon: The title should be written in plain language that is accessible to a broad audience. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may be unfamiliar to readers outside of the field.
Executive summary / Abstract
This is a brief overview of the proposal that summarizes the problem or opportunity being addressed, the proposed solution, and the expected outcome. It can be compared with the abstract within a paper. The purpose of an abstract in a paper is to crystalize ideas, and to give a quick way to understand the main points, general directions and conclusions.
It should be able to understand the executive summary on its own, without the need to refer to the proposal content. It is often the only part of a proposal that is widely read, and it can be the determining factor for whether or not to read the entire proposal.
The introduction of a proposal should provide background context to understand the research problem and the significance of the proposal. The introduction should be written in a clear and concise manner, and should be easily understandable by a broad audience.
Following questions can help you to formulate the introduction of your proposal:
- Why is the problem important?
- Why is the problem hard?
- Why now?
- Why you?
Related work / Literature review
The “related work” or “literature review” provides an brief review of the literature and an selective, focusing overview of the existing research on the topic that the proposal is addressing. It should be written in past tense and should be organized chronologically or thematically. It includes the following elements:
- Overview of the field: A brief overview of the field of research, including the current state of knowledge and recent developments.
- Summary of previous research and relevant studies: A summary of the research that is directly relevant to the research problem or question being addressed in the proposal. This section should provide a comprehensive review of the literature, including both theoretical and empirical studies.
- Identification of gaps in the literature: An analysis of the key findings from relevant studies, highlighting the key similarities and differences among them. This section should also identify gaps in existing literature and the ways in which the current study aims to address them.
- Comparison to current studies: A comparison between the current study and previous research studies, highlighting the similarities and differences, methods, and results.
- Contribution and Relevance: A statement of how the current study contributes to the field, including how it fills gaps in the literature or extends previous research.
Problem or opportunity statement
This section should clearly explain the problem or opportunity that the proposal is addressing, and the need for the proposed solution.
This section should describe in detail the solution that is being proposed, including any methods, techniques, or strategies that will be used.
A work plan is an essential component of a research proposal, as it provides a detailed description of how the research will be conducted, and what tasks and activities will be undertaken to achieve the research objectives. The purpose of a work plan are:
- Provides structure: A work plan provides a clear and organized structure for the proposed research, and helps to ensure that the research is well-designed and well-organized.
- Demonstrates feasibility: A work plan demonstrates the feasibility of the proposed research, and shows how the research objectives will be achieved within the given timeline and budget.
- Increases transparency: A work plan provides transparency about the research process, and makes it easier for reviewers and funding agencies to understand how the research will be conducted.
- Helps to manage resources: A work plan helps to manage resources, including time, personnel, and funding, by providing a detailed schedule of tasks and activities, and by identifying potential risks or issues that may arise during the research process.
A well-written work plan can increase the chances of the acceptance of a proposal.
This section should include a detailed breakdown of the costs associated with the proposed solution, including any funding that is needed and how it will be obtained.
This section should provide information about the qualifications of the individuals or organization submitting the proposal, including relevant experiences and expertise.
This section should summarize the key points of the proposal, and repeat the importance of the proposed solution.
Any additional information, such as resumes, references, or samples of work, can be included in the appendices.