Research Proposals


What Is It?



 A research proposal is a document that proposes a research project and is normally used to apply for grant funding. Learning how to write one effectively will be a great asset if you plan to enter an academic career.

What's the Difference Between a Research Proposal and a Research Paper?

Research Proposal

  • You are writing to gain approval; you have not started your experiment yet!

  • Explains why the research is needed & why it's important

  • Literature review (introduction)

  • What you plan to study (objectives, aims, research question)

  • How you plan to study it (brief methodology) & how you plan to interpret the results (data analysis)

  • Includes expected results & rationale

  • Committee/institution will decide whether your study is legal, ethical, and valid

Research Paper

  • Written after you finish conducting your experiment

  • Theoretical background & literature review (introduction)

  • A timeline of the methods and materials used with just enough detail that the study can be replicated

  • Results, regardless of whether they matched the expectations or not

  • Conclusions that were drawn based on the results

  • Future areas of research



  • Give sufficient background such that the reader understands your research topic.

  • DO NOT provide details regarding your methodology and/or objective. Just provide a brief overview/statement.

Lit Review

  • Provide justification for your research question/objective and hypothesis (ex. why you chose a certain tissue)

  • Elaborate on mechanisms of action (ex. drugs). 

  • DO NOT state any information regarding the methods. 

Research Design + Methodology

  • State your methods concisely and discard unnecessary details (ex. concentrations).

  • Provide a direction for your research question.

  • Provide reasoning for your methods.

  • Use additional subheadings to make formatting easier.

  • If you mimic a published procedure, ensure you cite it.

Expected Results + Significance

  • State your expected results for each experiment and in terms of the research question.

  • Citations are not required for this section.

Tips and Tricks


Methods Comparison: Research Proposal vs. Research Paper

Figuring out what to include in the methods section of a research proposal vs. a research paper is one of the things that students struggle with the most. Here are some of the main differences between them...

Research Proposal


  • Logically ordered

  • Methods & experimental design need to be justifiable in terms of allowing you to address the research question & accurately interpret results

  • Specify the techniques you will be doing & how you will be interpreting the results

  • You do NOT need to make it replicable at this time (i.e. NO concentrations) because you haven't conducted the experiment yet!

Research Paper

  • Logically ordered, in the order it happened

  • Mention the procedures, step by step, as well as the materials used

  • State what was done, including details to make the experiment replicable

  • Include the supplier for materials

  • Use past tense and a passive voice:

    • Active (avoid): the assay determined the concentration

    • Passive (use): the concentration was determined by the assay


Grant Proposals

What is a Grant Proposal?

A grant proposal is a document that is written prior to conducting a full experiment. It is similar to a research proposal in that you are describing an experiment that you plan to conduct and providing context and rationales for why you are completing the research. Grant proposals however, will differ from research proposals in that they deal more with funding. The main goal of writing a grant proposal is to try and persuade the committee/panel that is reading your proposal to fund your research. You will still need to include information on methods and how you plan to conduct your experiment, but you will also have to include how much funding you believe you will require, and how specifically that funding will be used. 


The most important aspect of grant applications is funding, because without it, you won't be able to complete your research. To apply for a grant, you will need to find a foundation or an agency that is providing grants that are within the scope of your research topic. 

Be prepared to...

  • Prepare a budget table that shows how much funding you will need and exactly how the funds will be allocated (think methods/techniques, researchers/colleagues that you may need to hire and pay, material costs, etc.)

  • Discuss how you will be keeping track of the progress of your experiment, especially pertaining to making sure that your spending and research progress are on track