IT-100-01 Coles

Research Proposal

Purpose of a Research Proposal

The purpose of a proposal is to outline your research to obtain critique or approval. Your proposal needs to convince that:

  • The problem is significant and worthy of study
  • The technical approach is novel and likely to yield results
  • You have done preliminary research and found that your research connects to existing literature or previous enquiry.

Typical Proposal Format


The title of your proposal should be short, accurate, and clear. A single sentence containing ten or fewer words is best. Don’t use acronyms and technical jargon as your reviewers may not come from your technical specialty. For example, “Web-GURU: Web-based Guide to Research for Undergraduates.”


As in a technical paper, the proposal abstract should “abstract” the project for the reader. It should be a brief (100 – 200 words), tightly worded summary of the project, its objectives, the problem’s significance, the project’s scope, the methods that will be employed,  and the results that are expected to result. Be sure to write this section last so that its content indeed abstracts your proposal.


The introduction section should introduce the research problem, its significance, and the technical approach your work will take to investigate/solve the problem.


This section should present a concise review of the primary literature relevant to your proposed research efforts. As such it should:

  • Cite the key literature sources
  • Be up to date
  • Critically appraise the literature
  • The background section should be constructed to inform the reader concerning where your study fits in. It should clearly state why your project should be done. Does your work:
    • Take science in a new direction?
    • Build on the prior work of others (whose?) in the field
    • Address flaws in previous work (again, whose?)
    • Develop infrastructure (instrumentation, methodology, collaborations) that will take science in exciting new directions

Preliminary Studies

If the project builds on past studies, then you should include a brief section outlining what ha already accomplished and explain how these results relate to the work outlined in the present proposal. If the ideas you are proposing are novel, then it is especially important to include this section and to present evidence supporting the probable success of your work.

Research Questions

A research question is a question that a study or research project aims to answer. This question often addresses an issue or a problem, which, through analysis and interpretation of data, is answered in the study’s conclusion. In most studies, the research question is written so that it outlines various aspects of the study, including the population and variables to be studied and the problem the study addresses.

As their name implies, research questions are often grounded on research. As a result, these questions are dynamic; this means researchers can change or refine the research question as they review related literature and develop a framework for the study. While many research projects will focus on a single research question, larger studies often use more than one research question.


How child protective services could help to prevent crimes? 

What are the basic principles of prison labor ethics?

Can reform be more efficient than traditional punishment?

How to avoid power abuse in the modern justice system?

Literature Review

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review is an thorough and up-to-date overview of existing research about the topic being studied.  The literature may come from books, articles, documentaries, interviews, critical reviews, DVDs, or other formats. 

It's a review because it usually contains a summary, synthesis, or analysis of the central arguments in the existing literature on the topic.  A literature review does not present an original argument, but instead presents the arguments of others. The sources are the main focus in a literature review and the author summarizes the arguments or ideas of others. You should include only the most relevant sources on a topic.

The literature review may also include gaps in the literature, identifying areas where further research needs to be completed.

Select a Topic

Select a topic you can manage in the timeframe you have to complete your project. Narrow down the topic if it is too broad.

Establish your research questions and organize your literature into logical categories around the subject/topic areas of your questions.

Search the literature

Use a variety of resources - locate books, journals, and documents that contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Internet sites, theses, conference papers, eprints and government or industry reports can also be included. Do not rely solely on electronic full-text material which is more easily available. Reference sources such as dictionaries can assist in defining terminology, and encyclopedias may be useful in introducing topics and listing key references.

You will need to review literature and analyze the information presented in each source. The review process is ongoing - you may need to go back to locate additional materials as you identify new ideas to see if others have written on similar topics.

Write the Literature Review

A literature review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another.

You can organize the review in many ways; for example, you can center the review historically (how this topic has been dealt with over time); or center it on the theoretical positions surrounding your topic (those for a position vs. those against, for example); or you can focus on how each of your sources contributes to your understanding of your project.

Your literature review should include

  • an introduction which explains how your review is organized. 
  • a body which contains the headings and subheadings that provide a map to show the various perspectives of your argument.
    • the body contains the evaluation or synthesize of the materials you want to include on your topic.
  • a summary.


Create a Bibliography

Create a bibliography of all the materials included in the literature review - books, articles, or documents using the appropriate style required by your instructor - APA, MLA, Chicago.

For citation examples see style manuals.

Or, you can visit the MU Tutoring & Writing Center's Resources for Writers.