Research Proposal Writing Help

Research Proposal Writing Help



SECTION B: Proposal Structure


1. Introduction
2. Research Context: Background
3. The Research Problem
4. Aim of the Assignment
5. Research Objectives
6. Significance of the Assignment
7. Literature Review
8. Research Design and Methodology
8.1 Research Methodology
8.2 Research Philosophy
8.3 Sampling Strategy
8.4 Data Collection Instruments
8.5 Data Analysis
8.6 Pilot Assignment
9. Ethical Considerations
10. Proposed Timetable
11. Bibliography
12. Appendices
Appendix A: Letter of Permission to Conduct the Assignment
Appendix B: Draft Covering Letter
Appendix C: Draft Questionnaire / Interview Schedule


  • The Introduction should be short and concise (about one paragraph).
  • Present basic information about the proposal itself, and what the reader can expect.
  • As a hint, the introduction should not include quotations by other authors.


  • The background and introduction sets the stage for the problem to be researched. This is not a lengthy section and should not exceed half a page.
  • The background should start with a concise overview of the research. Emphasize the importance of the proposed research. In addition, this section should attempt to convey experts’ views on the problem/ opportunity under investigation.

Please note that this is not the background/history of the organisation, but rather the background to the problem/challenge that the organisation is faced with. The research background should provide the context within which the research problem is situated. In other words there should be a logical flow from the background into the problem statement. There should be consistency and re-iteration with regards to the variables that are being investigated


State the exact problems/challenges/opportunities/issues that the organisation is faced with and hence the need to research (this must be in line with your title).

Keep the following in mind when writing your research problem:

  • The general context of the problem area should be emphasized.
  • Key concepts and ideas current in the area should be highlighted.
  • Briefly note some of the underlying assumptions in the research area.
  • Describe what needs to be solved and identify the most significant issues that require exploration. It is imperative that the Independent and dependent variables are identified.


  • The aim of the study refers to the desired outcomes, or the general intentions of the research, which 'paint a picture' of your study. It should emphasize what is to be accomplished and reflect the aspirations and expectations of the research topic.
  • Your aim must be clear, unambiguous and concise and indicate what you intend to achieve with the research regarding the research problem/ opportunity. The aim should consist of three parts: What is being studied, how it is being studied and why it is being studied. Once again, the aim needs to flow logically from the problem statement.
  • This usually starts with: “The aim of this study is......”


  • The objectives of the study refers to the operationalisation of the aim of the study. Simply put, the objectives use specific statements which define measurable outcomes. Objectives are stated as brief statements, one sentence each.
  • Use bullets to list your objectives.
  • You should have 3 objectives in total (remember, the purpose of the research report is to investigate a business issue. However, simply investigating an issue is not enough, and therefore, you must be able to recommend solutions to remedy problems and capitalise on opportunities). As such, the final objective should focus on recommendations.


Research Aims and Objectives should:

  • Be concise and brief.
  • Be interrelated; the aim is what you want to achieve, and the objective describes how you are going to achieve that aim.


It is important to establish and convey to the reader to whom this research would be beneficial to, for example the company; business associates; or members of a grouping; or a particular region?
Will it be academically important?
Will it contribute to knowledge?


The purpose of a literature review in a research proposal is, first, to attempt to understand the breadth and depth of existing literature on your chosen area of research. Secondly, it is to identify gaps in this literature – gaps that you will attempt to address in your report.

The literature review requires you to have done a library information search on the area you have chosen to research. You may also consult journals, newspapers and the internet for additional information pertaining to your research.

  • 2-3 pages of relevant literature must be presented.
  • Current literature must be cited (not older than 10 years; except in the case of original authors or textbooks, or if it is thoroughly justified). Information is constantly changing and it is important that you keep abreast with current trends.
  • It must become evident from this section that extensive reading was done.
  • The literature that is consulted must be relevant to your research problem.
  • It is imperative that in-text referencing is done correctly according to the Harvard Referencing style.
  • All information which is not common knowledge or the writer’s own idea must be referenced. In other words, the relevant author must be acknowledged so as to avoid committing plagiarism which is a serious academic offense. It must be proved that the report has not merely duplicated past or current research.


8.1 Research Methodology

In this section the researcher must identify the research design that underpins the research and provide a rationale for the chosen approach. All research choices must be explained (using references) and motivated.

There are two approaches to research - qualitative and quantitative.

  • For a quantitative study, the type of research design to be used must be specified, for example, explanatory; correlational; quasi-experimental or other.
  • For a qualitative study, the type of research design to be used must be specified, for example, exploratory or other.

Remember: You are only required to indicate the research method that you have chosen for this study (qualitative or quantitative) and thereafter indicate the appropriate research design.

8.2 Research Philosophy

This section involves a discussion on the Research paradigms. Essentially there are two schools of thought about science and knowledge. These are positivism and phenomenology.

Provide a discussion on the chosen paradigm for the study.

For example, if you have chosen the qualitative research method for your study then you will select the phenomenological paradigm. Once you have chosen the appropriate paradigm you are then required to define the paradigm using appropriate theory and explain why you have chosen it for your study. (If you have chosen an alternate research paradigm, please ensure that you have adequately justified the selection).


8.3 Sampling Strategy

The target population must be defined (Who does the population comprise of?).

Thereafter, a representative sample must be drawn from the population.

The sample size must be explicitly stated (ensure that you justify why the sample size was chosen)

  • For the quantitative research approach the sample size (number of participants) should be a minimum of 60.
  • For the qualitative research approach the sample size should be 8 – 10 participants.

There are two broad types of sampling – probability (quantitative) sampling and non-probability (qualitative) sampling.

You are required to provide a discussion on the different types of sampling and indicate which one you have chosen.

Ensure that the sampling technique that you have chosen is in line with the type of sampling you have chosen.

Refer to the information below on the different types of sampling and the corresponding sampling techniques:

Probability Sampling:

Examples of probability sampling include the following:

Simple Random: Each population element has an equal chance of being selected into the sample. Sample drawn using random number table/ generator.

  1. Systemic: A type of probability sampling method in which sample members from a larger population are selected according to a random starting point and a fixed periodic interval (every kth element). This interval, called the sampling interval, is calculated by dividing the population size by the desired sample size.
  2. Stratified: Divide population into sub-populations or strata and use simple random sampling on each stratum.
  3. Cluster: Population is divided into internally heterogeneous sub-groups.

Non-probability Sampling:

Examples of probability sampling include the following:

  1. Hapazard/ convenience: The research selects a sample that is convenient.
  2. Quota: A sample in a predetermined group is selected, i.e. 5 males and 5 females.
  3. Purposive/ judgemental: The researcher will select anyone in a hard-to-find target population, i.e. managers.
  4. Snowball: The researcher will select an element (participant), that is connected to another element. The first will refer the researcher to the next and so on. Hence, the reference to a snowball.
  5. Maximum variation: The researcher identifies the categories of interest in relation to the research topic and then intentionally seeks out subjects or settings which represent the greatest possible range of differences in the phenomena being studied.

Remember: You are only required to discuss the kind of sampling and sampling techniques for the methodology that you have chosen.

For example: If you have chosen the qualitative research method then you will choose non-probability sampling and an appropriate non-probability sampling technique. You will then need to define and discuss the chosen sampling technique using relevant theory and then justify why you have chosen the specific technique.

8.4 Data Collection Instruments

The research instrument that will be used should be indicated and described. These would generally include a survey or interview schedule.

Thereafter, provide a discussion on how the selected instrument was developed and the structure (number of questions, the different sections and so on).

For every research objective there should be at least:

  • 3 questions for a qualitative study (excluding the demographics)

5 questions for a quantitative study (excluding the demographics)

8.5 Data Analysis

This section must include a discussion on how data will be analysed.

For a quantitative study:

  • Discuss descriptive and inferential statistics
  • If you wish to incorporate inferential statistics, the specific tests and measures that will be applied to analyse the raw data must be referred to.
  • Indicate if you will be using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS)/ Microsoft Excel.

For a qualitative study:

  • Specify which data analysis technique will be used, for example, content analysis; thematic analysis; and so on.
  • Thereafter, provide a justification for the choice.

8.6 Pilot Assignment

  • Define the term pilot study and explain the benefits/ importance of conducting a pilot study.
  • Discuss how many participants will be targeted for the pilot study
    • For a quantitative study, it is recommended that the survey is piloted on approximately 10 participants.
    • For qualitative studies, it is recommended that the interview question is piloted using 1-2 participants.


Provide a discussion on the following aspects, citing relevant sources:

  • Ensuring participants have given informed consent;
  • Ensuring no harm comes to participants;
  • Ensuring confidentiality and anonymity; and
  • Ensuring that permission is obtained.

For each of the considerations discussed, you will need to specify exactly what measures will be taken to ensure that these are upheld.

For example, to ensure that participants give informed consent, you may draft informed consent forms advising participants of the nature and the scope of the study.


  • Consider the different sections of the research report.
  • Formulate a table stating exactly when the research process will begin and when it will end.



  • A correctly drafted bibliography is a minimum requirement for acceptance of the research proposal.
  • The Harvard system of referencing must be strictly adhered to.
  • Please ensure that all sources cited within the text are included in the bibliography.
  • Sources must be cited in alphabetical order. As a general rule, do not number or bullet sources in the bibliography.
  • At proposal phase, at least 15 sources should be cited throughout the proposal.
  • The use of academic journal articles is compulsory.
  • The use of Wikipedia and similar websites is not permitted as these are not considered to be credible academic sources.


The following appendices MUST be attached to the proposal:

  • Appendix A: Letter of Permission to Conduct the Assignment (from the organisation under study);
  • Appendix B: Draft Covering Letter (to respondents, informing them of the aim of the study and any ethical considerations); and
  • Appendix C: Draft Questionnaire / Interview guide.

Note: Informed consent forms will need to be drafted in certain instances, for example, if the study focuses on a group of SME’s



  • Abbreviations

Abbreviations such as “e.g.”, “i.e.”, “&”, and “etc.” may not be used .They must be written in full, such as “for example”, “that is”, “and” and so on. An exception to this rule is the abbreviation: et al., which means “and others” when you are doing in-text references.

  • Tense

Proper use of tense is expected to be used properly throughout the document. Since the study has not yet been conducted, the research methodology section should be presented in the future tense. Essentially, a study is being proposed.

  • Proof reading:

Get the assistance of a professional editor or have a colleague/friend/family member read through the document to find errors that are easily overlooked by the author. Sometimes spellchecker does not pick up words that are used incorrectly, because they are correctly spelt, e.g. fro instead of for. Ensure that there are no grammatical, semantic and spelling errors in the proposal.

  • Long sentences:

A common stylistic trend when writing is to use long sentences.

These sentences often exceed 3 lines. They become cumbersome and the meaning of what is being presented is can sometimes be difficult to fathom. Excessive sentence length can lead to poor clarity. It is more desirable to break these long winded sentences up into shorter ones.

  • Linking sections in the proposal:

The document should flow from start to finish.

This can be achieved by presenting the information in a logical sequence that show the topic is being developed. Linking sentences between sections can be used to demonstrate how each section fits into the overall document plan.

  • Informal language:

Do not make use of informal and first person language. The proposal is an academic work and needs to be written formally. Do not use words like “we”, “I” and they.


  • Page Margins and page numbering

It is important to number your pages correctly. The initial pages should be numbered in roman numerals. Page 1 begins at the introduction.

The standardization for page margins is 1.5 from the left and right of the page.

  • Line spacing

The required line spacing for the proposal is 1.5

  • Font style

Use either Arial or Times New Roman

  • Font Size

Font size 12 must be used

  • Headings

Headings should be numbered in the following manner:

- Main headings should be in caps and bold.

- There are no periods after the last number used.

- Preliminary headings such as TABLE OF CONTENTS, ABSTRACT or ABBREVIATIONS are not numbered.


  • requires that students use the HARVARD SYSTEM of referencing. Please consult with the Referencing guidelines in this regard.
  • The Harvard Referencing Generator is a useful referencing tool. You can access it online at

The research proposal is merely a structured plan for the actual report, as such; the submission should not exceed 8 - 10 typed pages (including bibliography and appendices).

When you have completed putting your proposal together and have adhered to the above guidelines, please submit your proposal

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