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Writing your research proposal

The written proposal is submitted to the milestone review panel members (selected by the supervisors according to the School policy) at least one week before the presentation. They will read the proposal and come to the presentation with feedback and questions. At the presentation, it’s usual for your supervisors to deliberate with the panel to assess your proposal and make recommendations for the next stage of research.

There is not one set structure for all research proposals at RMIT, so you’ll need to check your school guidelines. Although they all discuss the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, you may find it difficult to identify each of these elements, particularly the first two.  There is also substantial disparity in the length required between schools. Some schools ask for 2 – 5 pages, some 8 – 10 pages, and others can be considerably longer. Specific elements found in research proposals also vary between disciplines. Here is a list of elements that are always included and elements that are often included:

Always included:

·         Title

·         Background to the study

·         The current body of knowledge (review of the literature)

·         Research question/s or problem/s and/or hypotheses

·         Rationale for the research

·         Scope of the research

·         Research methodology

·         Milestones or timeline

·         Significance of the research/contributions of the research

·         Reference list

Often included:

·         Abstract

·         Table of Contents

·         Introduction

·         Definitions

·         Statement of the problem

·         Research aims and/or objectives

·         Epistemological stance and theoretical framework

·         Particular needs, e.g. resources

·         Expected preliminary outcomes

·         Intellectual property issues

·         Ethics approval/evidence of application


Whenever we write anything, we first need to think about purpose and audience.

The purpose of your research proposal:

1. To allow experienced researchers (your supervisors and their peers) to assess whether

  • the question or problem is viable (that is, answers or solutions are possible)
  • the research is worth doing in terms of its contribution to the field of study and benefits to stakeholders
  • the scope is appropriate to the degree (Masters or PhD)
  • you’ve understood the relevant key literature and identified the gap for your research
  • you’ve chosen an appropriate methodological approach.

2.To help you clarify and focus on what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you’ll do it. The research proposal
helps you position yourself as a researcher in your field. It will also allow you to:

  • systematically think through your proposed research, argue for its significance and identify the scope 
  • show a critical understanding of the scholarly field around your proposed research
  • show the gap in the literature that your research will address
  • justify your proposed research design
  • identify all tasks that need to be done through a realistic timetable
  • anticipate potential problems
  • hone organisational skills that you will need for your research
  • become familiar with relevant search engines and databases
  • develop skills in research writing.

The audience for your research proposal

Your reviewers are your main audience. They may have a strong disciplinary understanding of the area of your proposed research, but depending on your specialisation, they may not. It is therefore important to create a clear context, rationale and framework for your proposed research. Limit jargon and specialist terminology so that non-specialists can comprehend it. You need to convince the reviewers that your proposed research is worth doing and that you will be able to effectively ‘interrogate’ your research questions or address the research problems through your chosen research design.


The following video covers the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of writing a research proposal. 

Writing the research proposal (video)




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