One of the most practical research proposal templates I’ve ever read is Developing Research Proposals, a handout written by Prof. Ted Zorn at the Waikato Management School of the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Even if it’s not very objective to say that there is such a thing as a “best research proposal template”, this one definitely deserves a distinction.
Why? Because it’s short, simple, understandable and easy to adapt to your personal needs in any research topic, within any scientific field.
Please note: you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” in order to write a successful research proposal that gets accepted in the first round.
A good research proposal has to be 1) concise, 2) objective and 3) straight-to-the-point. Any reader should be able to understand what you describe in it, after the first reading.
Whoever you are addressing with your research proposal (a PhD application jury, a dissertation committee, a science grant foundation or “simply” your future thesis advisor), you need to respect your reader’s time. Keep in mind that the same person reading your proposal most probably has to go through several other research proposals at the same time, hence her/his attention must be limited. If you don’t focus, you lose.
This might sound harsh to you; but any senior PhD student would give you the same advice: you rather take the proposal writing process seriously if you want to be taken seriously and avoid troublesome re-writing or complete rejection.
According to Prof. Zorn, the suggested structure of a research proposal should look something like this:
Proposed research topic: if you are not clear on the subject, you lose the reader’s attention right away.
Purpose: what’s your goal with the proposed research activity?
Background: give the reader more information about the context of your research activity, will you work in a team or alone, what are the factors that enable you to finish this research project successfully.
Scope: Describe the practical aspects of your research. What exactly will you do in the field? Be short and focused.
Theoretical framework: Which theoretical frameworks will you use for your investigation? What are the possible implications for the research methods you intend to use.
Method: Which methods will you use? Literature review, focus groups, interviews, surveys, data analysis, reporting tools? Which steps will lead you to prove your hypothesis and answer your research question?
Timetable: WHEN will you do WHAT? Keep it just as detailed as necessary. Not more, not less.
Limitations: as the author says, “describe conditions beyond your control that place; restrictions on what you can do and the conclusions you may be able to draw.”
(De)limitations: What are the possible boundaries of your proposed research activity? (It’s even more important to clarify this to yourself, than to your reader!)
References: list all sources that you intend to use or relate to the subject, in advance. This list might change significantly over time as you “dig deeper”, anyway.