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How To Write A Research Proposal Outline: Full Guide And Template

So you’ve got a great topic you want to research. You can imagine all the ideas you want to explore and your professor is sure to fall in love with it. But what if they reject your idea from the get-go? Then what do you do? That is why you need a strong outline of research proposal to organize your ideas and get your topic approved. We’ve put together this guide with a template to ensure you can dive right into your passion topic. Read on to get the tips professional writers use to prepare their proposals.

What Is The Goal Of Writing a Research Proposal?

Students often ask what the point of this task is. As a result, they throw one together and focus on the root paper. As a result, their ideas are rejected by their professors which creates more work and stress. A qualitative research proposal demonstrates you have an understanding of what you’ll study and how you’ll go about it. Teachers use this as a means to determine if you’ll succeed with your endeavors and that’s why you shouldn’t shirk this responsibility. So let’s dig into the correct research proposal formatting to show that you are ready to handle your topic and deliver a strong paper worthy of a high grade.  

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How to Write a Research Proposal Outline Correctly?

To get the results you need, be sure to include all relevant sections of a research proposal. This will also serve as the outline of your work which will simplify the writing process. With the proper preparation, you can work efficiently with your work and the assignment will almost write itself. So let’s take a look at the parts of a research proposal.

  1. Research Proposal Introduction: Here you want to write a good hook as to why you need to investigate a burning question in your discipline. You’ll include your thesis statement to declare your position on the matter which will drive the direction of your work.
  2. Research background: Be sure to include the current state of knowledge. What is proven fact, accepted as generally true, and areas of the unknown? You can cite the work of other scientists and how you plan to expand upon their work.
  3. Literature review: This is much more than a summary of the work of other authors. Here you want to point out concepts others put forth in their work and how it is useful for your work, or any knowledge gaps you plan to tackle. A tight literature review shows that you’ve done your homework and are able to take a topic to the next step.
  4. Rationale: Relevance is of absolute importance in academic work. There are many phenomena in the universe but if there isn’t a reason to investigate an idea, nobody will take interest in your work and therefore, it won’t be useful – or approved.
  5. Method and design: The plan on how you will conduct your work is imperative and detailed here. Another scientist should be able to duplicate your work to analyze their results, so be as detailed as reason allows.
    • Research method: mention any sample groups you’ll analyze, any lab work, interviews, etc. Also be sure to mention any physical instruments or materials used in your work.
    • Research Design: The design of your work depicts the frameworks you’ll operate under. Some tests may be experimental while others are descriptive or correlated. The purpose of this section puts your methods into the context of how they were used.
  6. Procedure: In this section layout the steps you had taken in your methods. For example, in a psychology class, you may mention you plan to test a certain population with a certain condition and relate it to a group without this condition. Create a good recipe for your processes to show you have thought of any outlying conditions.
  7. Analysis: Your analysis states what the data means to you. Be concrete and always base your reasoning on facts. If some experiments went awry mention any shortcomings and if any findings could potentially be compromised.
  8. Significance and research proposal conclusion: One of the most parts of your work that people often overlook (mostly because they are happy to be done) is to do a half-hearted job on the conclusion. Don’t let your proposal go to waste by letting your reader go with a bad impression. Restate your strongest points and hammer away at the importance of your topic and why it is useful. A call to action to demand a necessity for your efforts will help persuade your audience.
  9. References: To give your proposal the highest level of consideration, show that you have a strong foundation of knowledge on the subject by building off the ideas of others. But when doing so, give them credit through proper citations. A failure to do so will flag you for plagiarism which can only mean bad things.

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Research Proposal Formats

Depending on your discipline, your research paper proposal outline may look a little different. Here are some popular styles you’ll see in university.


When drafting your paper using this style, be sure to use the author + date method of inline text citations and include 1” margins on all sides. A 12-point Times-New-Roman font is recommended, and instead of a bibliography, you’ll include a references list. This format also includes a special header called a running head at the top of every page to identify a shortened title and the page number. You’ll also need to draft a title page for your work. On the cover page, include the running head, your name, university, teacher, and course.


In the humanities, you’ll probably use the MLA citation guide. For in-text citations use the author + page number format and include a bibliography at the back of the paper to give a full citation of each reference. You do not need to include any special headers and MLA does not mandate a title page. Instead, you’ll include a header in the top left corner identifying your name, university, and course. All should be double-spaced with a Times New Roman 12pt font.


A unique feature of this style is the usage of footnotes. Superscript any footnotes in text incrementally with a source citation at the foot of each page. At the end of your paper include a bibliography including all footnotes as well as any citations used in your work. Use a double-spaced Times-New-Roman font in a 12-point size and include 1” margins on all sides. Chicago does not have particular formatting for a cover page, but best practice is to center your title 1/3 of the way down with your name, institution, and instructor's name centered near the bottom.

Know how to structure your paper

  • 12-point Times New Roman
  • 0" between paragraphs
  • 1" margin all around
  • double spaced (275 words/page) / single-spaced (550 words/page)
  • 0.5" first line of a paragraph
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PapersOwl editors can also format your paper according to your specific requirements.

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Research Proposal Structure: Example

Here is an example of what your outline research proposal would look like in APA or MLA formatting. Reference the portions above to expand on the research proposal outline and add in the details specific to your paper.

Research Proposal Outline

Researching a topic is a very demanding task and that’s why a good proposal is necessary to get your work approved so you can follow your passions. Knowing how to put together the right text will assist you in the real world as well. You’ll be much more prepared in persuading others to your ideas. Follow these tips and enjoy the accolades you deserve.

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