The role of a proposal in a research study

This essay outlines the role of a proposal in a research study. Research studies generally require significant investment of resources including personnel time and financial resources. If a research study were to be carried out which either does not accurately answer the intended questions or comes up with findings which are inconsequential or which duplicate previous research this would be a significant waste of resources. The research proposal thus comes in to try to explore the factors affecting the conduct and relevance of a study before it is conducted.


A research study is a scientific way to improve or develop find answers to particular questions or solutions to specific problems (Gerring, 2006). Runeson and Höst, (2009) define a research study as “creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of humans, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.”Penrod (2003) defines that “A project proposal is a detailed description of a series of activities aimed at solving a certain problem.” A good project proposal thus contains a logical presentation of the research idea. The project proposal also outlines the general area of study within which the research falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the topic (Fricke, 2003).

Background to the study

The first part of the project proposal gives the background of the problem which has prompted the study. This part enables the researcher to explore the reality which is currently on the ground and establish whether there actually a need for the research study to be conducted in the first. This part of the project proposal prevents a situation whereby resources are wasted on studies that have been conducted before or in exploring a problem which already has proven solutions. Apart from looking at the prevailing situation in the study area, the research proposal also considers how the same problem may have manifested in other parts of the world and the results which were obtained when the problem was studied elsewhere. In so doing, there is the possibility that the researcher may find that studies which were conducted elsewhere can answer their questions or have developed solutions which they can adopt meaning that resources can be channeled to other purposes instead of the study. The background of the study as established in the project proposal can also be useful in convincing potential funders of the research study that it is worthwhile.

Statement of the problem

In the project proposal a clear definition of the problem which the research intends to solve is given. It is important for the researcher to establish at the outset, the problem they are dealing with as this will have a bearing on how they plan and implement the research. Fricke (2003) contend that without a clearly defined problem, a research study may come up with findings which are not related to the original problem or which cannot address it adequately. In the project proposal , the researcher is able to define the problem which the study seeks to study in such a clear manner that from there it is easy to determine the activities which will produce the required answers. The statement of the problem also goes a long way towards justifying the research study to potential funders of the research study, and to present a compelling case that there actually is a compelling case for resources to be channeled towards the research study.

Purpose of the research

The project proposal also gives the opportunity to clearly define the purpose of the research study before conducting it. A purpose statement is a declarative sentence which summarizes the specific topic and goals of a research study. The purpose statement  is typically included in the introduction of a project proposal to give an accurate, concrete understanding what the research study will cover and what it expects to achieve (Juni, 2014). Defining the purpose of the study in a research project is useful as it guides the researcher in terms of clearly conceptualising what they want to achieve by carrying out the research study. The project proposal also breaks down the purpose of the study into objectives which are Specific ,measurable and time-framed. Fricke (2003) states that the formulation of clear objectives in a project proposal makes it easy to decide on the activities which are to be carried out during the research study. The objectives ultimately enable the researcher to decide what type of data is needed to achieve them, and the resources which are needed to do so within the time-frame. In this way the project proposal paves the way for the research study to be planned in such a way that it will answer the original research questions and do so within the time which is available. Juni (2014) contends that a study which does not have clearly defined objectives is just a waste of time as it cannot come up with any useful findings.

Significance/justification of the study

The project proposal also helps in establishing the significance or justification of a research study. Research studies entail significant investment in terms of time, personnel and financial resources. It is therefore important when planning a research study to actually establish whether it is necessary and if it will bring some benefits to stakeholders (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004). The project proposal makes it possible for the researcher to identify the different stakeholders who stand to benefit from the research study and the particular ways in which those benefits are expected to manifest. A discussion of the significance of a study typically includes an explanation of the work’s significance, its potential benefits and its overall impact (Baker, 2000). Barker goes on to say that the significance of a study, is often also called the rationale and attempts to explain to an audience why a researcher’s work is worth performing. When the significance of the study has been clearly explained in the project proposal it is now easy for the researcher to make their case in obtaining the resources which are needed for the study. The process will also identify the significant stakeholders which also may be a guide to the researcher in identifying potential sources of support for the research study to proceed. Having identified the potential benefits for each stakeholder it would also be easier to convince them that their contribution is worthwhile.

Scope of the study

When the idea for a research study initially comes up there are normally unlimited possibilities in terms of what should actually be studied, where the study is conducted , how its is conducted and who is involved. Of these countless possibilities Vakkari, Pennanen and Serola (2003) state that there should be a systematic process of elimination such that the researcher ends up with a concept which is feasible an manageable. The project proposal gives this opportunity to clearly define the scope of the study. The scope of study as presented in the project proposal helps the researcher to outline the limitations of the research, the specific data used for the research and the theories used to interpret the data. The scope of study is a very important component of research, since it explains why certain data is excluded from the research (Juni, 2014). By defining the scope of the study in the project proposal the delimitation of the research study is done such that the researcher is clear from the beginning in terms of what is and what is not included in the study. Without a clearly defined scope, the research would not be feasible to conduct as it would be too broad and someone may not even know where to start. According to Baloch (2011), outlining the scope of the study in a research proposal also enables the researcher to analyze and think about what is possible and what is not possible way in advance rather than to find themselves stuck at some point in conducting the study. Should the researcher take a direction which is not feasible and get stuck at some point this would be a significant waste of resources.

Preliminary literature review

The project proposal also includes a literature review of the subject in the study. The review of the literature provides the background and context for the research problem. It enables the researcher to establish the need for the research and helps the writer to become knowledgeable about the area” (Webster and Watson, 2002). Review of the writing of recognized authorities in the area and research studies previously carried out makes the researcher familiar with what is already known and what still remains to be done. Systematic review of related literature is expected to yield among other things, insight and information needed. The review of related literature is expected to assist the researcher in several ways in finalization of undertaken study. Searching usually contains only those studies or literature which is related to the problem either as a whole or to some aspect (s) of the problem. The literature review considers objectives of previous studies study, the hypotheses if there is any, the sample, its size, characteristics, sampling technique, and the tools used along with their reliability and validity coefficients, etc. This assists the researcher to shape their own objectives and research methodologies. The researcher may also glean knowledge on the best way to approach the study and to avoid those methods which have already been found to be unsuitable. By reviewing the techniques which were used for statistical analysis in the previous studies the researcher is also able to come up with the best and most suitable ones to use in their research study. The literature review in the project plan also enables the researcher to clearly establish the research gap which needs to be filled in, so that they come up with a research study which is capable of contributing new knowledge to the existing body of knowledge rather that duplicating previous findings.

Limitations of the study

The researcher also needs to be aware of the possible limitation of their proposed study and come up with ideas for dealing with them before embarking on the study. The project proposal gives the opportunity to identify such limitations before the study and formulating strategies for countering the effects of such limitations. Baloch (2011) explains that some limitations in research study may be serious enough to nullify the validity of its findings, therefore it is important to always deal with any limitations which are anticipated regardless of how minor they may seem at first. The project proposal therefore helps in safeguarding the validity of the findings by exploring and dealing with its limitations.

Assumptions of the study

Not all the factors involved in the research study are within the researcher’s control, which means that they will need to make assumptions about those factors which they cannot manipulate (Webster and Watson, 2002). Such assumptions are important for a research study as they will guide the researcher in formulating their methodology. The project proposal therefore gives the researcher the opportunity to consider the various factors which are at play and come up with an appropriate methodology. Taking note of the assumptions which have to be made in conducting the study also enables the researcher to analyse their data within a certain framework which ensures the applicability of their findings to the prevailing situation in the study area (Koh and Owen, 2000). The assumptions of the study in the project proposal enable the findings of the study to be context specific and applicable to the study area.

Research methodology

Baker (2000) contends that if you are conducting a research study you have a methodology, whether you have stated it or not. The disadvantage of having a methodology which is not stated is however that you cannot be sure whether you have actually followed it correctly and the reliability and validity of the study is questionable. For instance should you want to repeat the study it may not be possible to follow exactly the same methodology. The project proposal provides such opportunity for the research methodology to be decided and outlined clearly. Writing a project proposal enables the researcher to present a methodology to explain where they are coming from and why they want to do the research in a particular way. In planning the research study this is an important step as it clearly outlines the practical steps that will be taken in order to come up with the research findings. Any who is assessing the research idea will want to be assured that the research question is a good question that needs asking, that the chosen approach will answer the question or address the hypothesis and that the approach will deliver the outcomes which the research study seeks (Todd, 2007). The methodology in the project proposal also helps to give confidence to funding agencies that they are not going to waste their money.

Work plan and budget

The research study also need to have a work plan which is determined in advance so as to have a basis for monitoring the progress of the study. The project proposal typically contains the work plan and schedule for the activities of the research study. To ensure that adequate resources are prepared for the project the project proposal also includes a budget for the study. This enables the researcher to be sure that they have adequate resources to complete the research study and avoid the risk of having to abandon it after depleting the resources before completion.


The main purpose of a research proposal is to show that the problem you propose to investigate is significant enough to warrant the investigation, the method you plan to use is suitable and feasible, and the results are likely to prove fruitful and will make an original contribution. In short, a project proposal for a research study seeks to determine whether the envisioned concept will work at all and to outline how it will be implemented. The project proposal therefore ensures that the research study is feasible both technically and in terms of availability of resources.




Baker, M.J. (2000) ‘Writing a Research proposal’, The Marketing Review, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 61-78.

Baloch, Q.B. (2011) ‘ Writing of Research Proposal’, Abasyn University Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 1.

Fricke, Y. (2003) Project proposal writing.., Dehli: Abilis Foundation.

Gerring, J. (2006) Case study research: Principles and practices, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, R.B. and Onwuegbuzie, A.J. (2004) ‘Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come’, Educational researcher, vol. 33, no. 7, pp. 14-26.

Juni, M.H. (2014) ‘Writing a research proposal’, International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 229-240.

Juni, M.H. (2014) ‘Writing a research proposal’, International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 229-240.

Koh, E.T. and Owen, W.L. (2000) ‘Writing the Research Proposal’, in Introduction to Nutrition and Health Research, New York: Springer US.

Penrod, J. (2003) ‘Getting funded: Writing a successful qualitative small-project proposal’, Qualitative health research, vol. 13, no. 6, pp. 821-832.

Runeson, P. and Höst, M. (2009) ‘Guidelines for conducting and reporting case study research in software engineering’, Empirical software engineering, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 131.

Todd, C. (2007) ‘Writing a research proposal’, in Research methods in palliative care, New York: Oxford University Press.

Vakkari, P., Pennanen, M. and Serola, S. (2003) ‘Changes of search terms and tactics while writing a research proposal: A longitudinal case study’, Information processing & management, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 445-463.

Webster, J. and Watson, R.T. (2002) ‘Analyzing the past to prepare for the future: Writing a literature review’, MIS quarterly, pp. 13-23.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *