An academic proposal constitutes your first step towards producing your thesis or dissertation. It’s a very important document because it is intended to persuade your supervisor that the research you are considering will be useful and worthwhile; if they are not convinced by your proposal then you will not be permitted to progress to even formulating your thesis statement. Here are some top tips on writing an academic proposal that gets results.
Writing an Academic Proposal
The purpose of an academic proposal
You are attempting to answer several important questions within your academic proposal:
- Why do you need to do the research?
- What specifically will your research be examining?
- How will you conduct it?
- Who will be doing your research?
- Where will it be done?
- How long do you expect it to take?
- How much is it going to cost?
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Elements of an academic proposal
Your academic proposal should contain three main elements:
Justification. You need to demonstrate a clear rationale for your choice of subject and the topic you will be researching. Within your justification, you need to demonstrate that the research will be useful within your field and will add value to your peers and to the institution as a whole. It is important when writing an academic proposal that you also clearly state what the limitations of the project will be, as you need to set clear expectations for what will, and will not, be delivered within the scope of work.
Literature Review. The review element of your academic proposal should include an overview of the existing work and research that is related to your topic of choice. It is not sufficient to simply review the existing work. You need to explain how your research will build upon the information that is already available and how you will bring something new to the academic field under scrutiny.
Outline. You have explained why you think the research is worthwhile and how it fits in with existing research; you should now explore how you will actually approach the task. In this section of your academic proposal, you need to outline your proposed approach and include an overview of the costs, resources, and time needed to complete your work.
Organizing your proposal
The way in which you organize your academic proposal may vary according to the institution that you attend. Ensure that you consult with your supervisor so that you are clear about what the expectations are. Here are some general tips that will assist you in maintaining focus on your research question and produce a written academic proposal that gets results:
- Allow sufficient time. One of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing a research proposal is to try and put it together as quickly as possible. You need to remember that, at this juncture, your research proposal is more important than the research itself; if the proposal is not accepted then there will be no research. Take time to research and gather materials, read the materials and write the proposal. Never underestimate how long all this will take. Leave sufficient time for editing and proofreading the proposal. See our guide to is academic editing cheating? for more information.
- Show that you are confident that the research will be successful by using positive language throughout.
- Ensure that your literature review is thorough. Include between 10 and 15 different sources.
- Make sure it looks professional. Use a standard 12-point font throughout. Aim to write an academic proposal that is between 8 and 10 pages long.
- Write the executive summary last. Ensure that it fits on one page.
- Use the active voice throughout and keep to one tense in order to ensure consistency.
- Don’t be tempted to include your own opinion, and never use phrases such as, “I think.” The academic proposal should appear to be a measured, objective analysis of the need for the research.
- Once you have finished writing the first draft of your proposal, carefully edit and proofread it in order to ensure that it contains no grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors and expresses your objectives in clear, easy-to-understand language.