What is a proposal?

A proposal is a map that outlines the relevant concepts and steps of your project. 

Writing the proposal helps you think through your process, ensure that you are on the right track, and provides an opportunity to recveive feedback to strengthen your final product. 

Within your proposal, you will communicate the problem being researched, your research questions, and how you plan to answer this question. Thus, your proposal is ultimately your project plan and should include:

  • Background and review of relevant literature and theories 
  • Description of the research objectives, problem, purpose, and rationale
  • Research question and potentially sub-research questions
  • Methodological orientation, proposed methods, and plans for analysis 
  • Limitations and benefits of your research 

Getting an overview of your topic

Before you start collecting books and articles, get an overview of your topic in encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks or atlases. These kinds of materials also help you to:

  • Understand past research on your topic
  • Identify experts, researchers and theorists
  • Discover concepts and related vocabulary
  • Identify potential approaches to your project
  • Locate facts, statistics and bibliographies (lists of related sources)

Research & reading resources

1. Plan your search strategy

Choosing a Topic and Search Terms

2. Evaluate your sources

How to Evaluate Information Sources

3. Tips for reading literature

How to Read for Grad School 

Grad School Reading Strategies

How To Read Critically

Developing Your Proposal

Below are common proposal components. As noted before, talk to your supervisor to make sure you know what to include in your proposal. 

  • Introduction: An introduction that establishes the foundation for your proposal. This section puts your research and ideas in context for the reader.
    • Relevant context - Introduce the relevant context for the project, such as previous research on the topic or features of the neighbourhood, city, country, etc. that have shaped your project
    • Stakeholders - Describe any community partners, clients, or stakeholders involved in the research project 
    • Problem or Objective - Explain the specific issue, problem, or gap that your research aims to address.
    • Importance -  Establish the big-picture relevance of your project. In other words, why should we care?
  • Background & Literature Review: All of your ideas will be supported by research and other well-known literature. This gives your work credibility and helps you avoid accusations of plagiarism. 
  • Methodology: In this section, you’ll include a brief overview of how you plan to approach the topic and the methods used for your work. 
  • Potential outcomes: Explain what you expect to find or create through your research project.
  • Limitations: Every study comes with its own unique limitations or constraints which impact the results. Outline these limitations, and explain how they could impact your findings or outcomes. 

Drafting Tips

Having trouble getting started? Here's a great way to get your ideas organized and plan out what to include in your proposal. 

  • Using the above framework, start by creating sections in your document
  • Within each section list out your main points.
  • Under each main point list evidence, relevant context, or further detail to support your claims or ideas
  • Continue to develop any sub-points under their corresponding main points followed by evidence, context, and detail
  • Repeat this process until you have addressed the sub-sections in our example outline.
  • Following go back and begin to edit your proposal for clarity and flow.

Submitting Your Proposal

  1. Review any course or department resource instructions regarding:
    1. Structure - have you included all the required sections? 
    2. Formatting - font type, font size, spacing, etc.
  2. Proofread your proposal to look for errors in grammar, missed citations, or formatting.
  3. Submit your proposal through the instructions provided through your course syllabus or program resources.

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