How to write a research proposal

A research proposal needs to be a convincing argument for the need for your research and its significance, so keep it coherent, clear and compelling. The goal of your research proposal is to convince others that you have a worthwhile research project and the ability to fully follow it through to completion within a timely manner.

A strong, clearly-written, well-reasoned proposal is more likely to be funded than one, which is complex, contorted and jargon-riddled. Make a case for how your proposal is ground breaking, unique, necessary, and timely or has greater scope for a good outcome. Show why you and your team are best placed to deliver.

Lastly, think about your proposal as a business case or product you need to present before a sponsor. You need to be able to sell your idea on paper within minutes.

Try this exercise to test your project’s feasibility:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • What do you want to do?
  • Where do you want to do it?
  • How do you plan to do it?
  • When will you do it (timeline)?
  • Why should someone give you money for it (care)?

Ensure your proposed research project is aligned with the purpose of the grant you are applying for. If it is not, seek out funding opportunities that are a better match.

You should provide enough information for the ALIA Research Advisory Committee to make an informative decision on your proposal and we would therefore suggest you address such things as:

  • Details of the project you will undertake
  • A suitably descriptive title
  • What earlier work has been undertaken on a project like the one you propose; why is yours different?
  • What you plan to accomplish - why it is important, ; what will the outcome be for whom?
  • How are you going to execute it?
  • When do you anticipate the project will start / end? Provide an estimated timeline including at least one status reporting date included.

*Checklist, things to do*

First things first, read the ALIA research awards terms and conditions before you begin writing your proposal. Follow the guidelines – respond to all questions and include details relating to:

  • Outline of proposed research project including aims and objectives
  • Concise and properly referenced literature review to show what work, if any, has already been carried out on your chosen research topic
  • How you plan to evaluate the outcomes of your research
  • How you plan to disseminate the results of your research (e.g., conference paper, journal article)
  • Timetable
  • Itemised budget (see below)
  • Curriculum vitae
  • References from two referees
  • Other related information to assist in the evaluation of your application
  • Ask someone (e.g. an experienced/acknowledged researcher) to critique your proposal and heed their advice
  • Submit nomination by no later than advertised closing date

Tips on what to provide


Your timetable needs to show the overall duration of the research project and indicate timing of the significant stages of the project.


Your budget doesn't have to be complicated but make it realistic, clear and concise. Establish your budget by making a list of all income and expenditure involved in your plans, run it by your supervisor or mentor to make sure you haven't overlooked anything, including the time/cost for your workload. Detail costs and how they have been calculated. Some items you might like to include in your budget proposal are:

  • Postage and telephone /other communications costs
  • Stationery and supplies
  • Travel and accommodation ‚ you will need to provide some detail on how you have arrived at the costs you claim, e.g. overnight accommodation @ $/night.
  • Evaluation
  • Other expenses

Remember to provide information about contributions made by other sponsors, for example will your workplace allow you to conduct the research during your working hours, will any other organisations contribute financially or otherwise.

Outline of proposed project including aims and objectives

A research proposal gives you an opportunity to present the case for your research, highlight your project’s significance and your capacity to do the work. It should also demonstrate your understanding of the research topic and your familiarity with the research methods you recommend.


It should be concise, descriptive, memorable and exciting. You will want to capture the panel's interest. The title should be precise enough to suggest the nature and scope of the project, and concise enough to be referred to quickly and easily

Aim and objectives

Aim: one clear and concise sentence that captures the research issue. The aim is the ‘what’ of the research (what you hope to do or the overall intention of the project).

Objectives: spell out the individual objectives that will achieve the aim. These are the steps you will undertake to achieve your aim.


Provide a brief overview of the proposed project. Describe what you plan to accomplish and how this will be achieved.


The main purpose of the introduction is to provide the necessary background or context for your research idea. Be creative by opening with a scenario that illustrates a problem; the introduction typically begins with a general statement or description of the major issues of the research project and focuses on such things as the purpose of the research, why it is important and worth doing. If applicable, indicate that you are aware of other research taking place and how your study may be complementary/contradictory (e.g. how it contributes and extends existing knowledge). Indicate the possible research audiences.

Literature review

This does not have to be extensive, but it needs to convince the reader of the need for the research. You need to show evidence that you have read the literature (including theoretical frameworks and concepts used by others) on your topic of choice and that you are aware of any similar work (including recent work) that has been carried out on your topic and how your proposed work will contribute to the existing body of work (or lack of work) in the area. Please remember to correctly reference the works you have used, and refrain from using footnotes.


This section is very important because it should show the panel how you plan to tackle your research project. It should contain sufficient information for the panel to determine whether your methodology is sound. You need to demonstrate your knowledge and make the case that your approach is an appropriate way to address the project. This section should include justifications for the research methods you’re using (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods etc.), what research instruments and schedules you will use (task analysis, observations, interviews, surveys, evaluation, testing etc.), along with how you plan to analyse your data.


Clearly identify key outputs (e.g. reports, scholarly papers, documentation for a new system, a service, a campaign, or a software). State what you think will be achieved by doing this study and state what outcomes you believe will arise from this research, and indicate how they will come about.


You obviously don't have the results at the proposal stage but you do need to have some idea of the outcome of your research and that it is achievable within the agreed timeframe. What are the measures of success? Describe how you are going to evaluate whether your project is a success or not. What is the potential impact of your research? List main tasks and when they will be done and indicate key tasks that can be used to monitor activity/achievements.

Sharing results

How are you going to disseminate the results of your research? State how you will inform others and share you results (e.g. proposed presentations, publications and informal reporting).

Curriculum vitae

Provide a brief account of your career to date. You could also include information relating to your special interests, career and life goals to support your application. Do not duplicate information already documented.


Your two referees need to communicate a sense of enthusiasm and confidence in you and your proposal and focus on the significance of the proposed project to the profession. It is your responsibility to ensure the references from your referees are received by no later than the nomination closing date.

Useful Resources

  • American Astronomical Society. (2004). Grants and prizes.
  • Bouma, Gary D. (2000). The research process. 4th edn. London: Oxford
  • University Press. And later editions. There are many many books which outline the research process ‚and this is just one title.
  • Bryman, Alan 2008, Social Research Methods, 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK.
  • Community builders NSW (n.d.) A guide to submission writing.
  • How to: win a philanthropic grant - the essential guide (n.d.)
  • Krathwohl, David R. (2009). Methods of Educational & Social Science Research: An Integrated Approach. 3rd ed., Waveland Press.
  • Levine, S Joseph. (2007). Guide for writing a funding proposal.
  • Maxwell, Joseph A. 2005, Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
  • Olk, Harald, (2003, November) How to write a research proposal.
  • Pickard, Alison Jane. (2007) Research methods in information London : Facet,
  • Walonick, David S. (n.d.) Elements of a research proposal and report.
  • Williamson, K. , & Johansen, G. (2013). Research methods: Information, Systems, and Context. Tilde University Press.