A typical proposal will include most of the following sections. There may be variations depending on your discipline, degree stage, school preferences and research topic, so you should ask your tutor or supervisor for advice before starting to write.


In the opening section of the proposal, you should set your chosen topic in context by introducing the broad research area in which it is located and explaining the link between the two. You should demonstrate a good understanding of the research background and current theories, issues and debates. You need to show how this has helped you to identify the gap in existing knowledge which provides the justification for your research.

Aims and objectives

You should now establish a clear focus for your research. You should present your research questions and state the aims and objectives of the investigation, or set out the hypotheses you expect to prove.

Theoretical underpinning

In some disciplines, particularly in the humanities and socials sciences, it is important to explain the theoretical perspective(s) underpinning your research.


In this section, you should describe your research design and justify your choice of methods. In particular, you should explain how the methods you intend to use will address your research questions. You should show awareness of potential problems with data collection or access to sources.


You should draw up a timetable giving expected completion dates for major stages of the process; for example: writing the literature review, data collection and analysis, first draft, final draft.

Chapter outline

This is not always required, but thinking of the structure of your dissertation or thesis in advance will help you to give your work a sense of direction.

List of references

You should list all the sources you used in your proposal. If you are unsure how to do this, consult the references page.