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Format for Research Proposal

McNair Scholar presenting at the 2008 Annual McNair Research Symposium

McNair Scholar presenting at the 2008 Annual McNair Research Symposium

The following is a list of items which are typically included in a research report. Realize that not all categories are appropriate for all studies and the order of items within each chapter may vary. These items are intended to serve as a guide.

Part I. Description of Research Question
This is a clarification of your research topic. It is a question, concept or hypothesis which will guide your study. When considering a research topic, you should evaluate whether it meets your interests, is a realistically achievable research project, and serves your application to graduate school. The description of the research question will serve as a solid introduction to your topic.

  1. Identify the general subject area that will be addressed in your research.
  2. Indicate the significance of your chosen research area.
  3. Define the specific research topic you will explore.
  4. Make a central assertion or prediction that your research will test and/or defend.
  5. Suggest subsidiary questions, concepts or hypotheses that can guide your research by dividing it into steps.
  6. Narrow down and identify the scope of your research.
  7. In general terms describe the model your research will follow.
  8. State the ways in which your project might contribute to research in the field.

Part II: Literature Review
This is the process by which you will begin building an argument for your study. You should search for and gather sources that demonstrate a need for your topic. These sources should define and explain the terminology of your research area and review the work of other scholars in the field. The literature review should also demonstrate how your topic fits within the field (i.e., how it builds upon or expands this area of knowledge).

  1. Identify sources of information to be used in the research (e.g. journal articles, government statistics, autobiographies).
  2. Describe the general kinds of information to be used in the research (e.g. survey data, economic trends, historical developments, primary sources).
  3. Explain how the information gathered from your sources relates to your research question. (Do NOT simply summarize the article or book).

Part III: Methodology
This section comprises the method or methods by which information is to be collected for your research project. In order to complete this section, you must determine the means by which you will collect data, and how the data will be analyzed.

  1. Describe how you will collect the data necessary to conduct your research project.*
  2. Identify some of the issues or challenges associated with your proposed method of data collection.
  3. Explain how you will analyze the data you have gathered.
  4. Demonstrate how your methods of data collection and analysis are aligned with traditional methodologies in your field.

Part IV: Timeline
Your proposed timeline should illustrate the schedule by which you plan to conduct and complete your research. It is essential that your timeline is designed in a logical and reasonable fashion. When preparing your timeline, please take into account the following items:

  1. The information-gathering methods you plan to use.
  2. Unforeseen alterations or changes in the project.
  3. Time for completing all research and drawing conclusions from it.
  4. Time for writing and revising your research paper.

Part V: Preliminary Bibliography
Your preliminary bibliography should consist of those sources which reflect other scholars' work on your research topic. The sources should all reflect a working familiarity with standard research in the field. Select items which directly relate to your specific research topic as well as 'standard' sources that relate to your field more generally.

Part VI: Coversheet, Presentation and Mentor's Signature
Your finalized research proposal should include a cover sheet which states the following items:

  1. Title
  2. Name
  3. Date
  4. Student Department(s)
  5. Mentor Name(s)
  6. Mentor Department(s)
  7. University of Kansas
  8. McNair Scholars Program
  9. Mentor Signature(s)

*Your mentor's signature of approval is required on the cover sheet of your final proposal. Also, you must be prepared to present your proposal in a 5-10 minute presentation.
* Bear in mind that this is a suggested format and cannot be imposed across the curriculum: as always, you should defer to your mentor's recommendations.
* If you plan to conduct research involving human subjects, please consult your McNair advisors regarding due dates.


You and your mentor should agree upon an appropriate length for your proposal. However, we suggest 5 - 10 typed (font size: 14 point maximum), double-spaced pages. Remember that portions of your proposal can (and should) be incorporated into your research paper.

The following works are part of the McNair Resource Library: The Chicago Manual of Style; Kate L. Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations; the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers; the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association; and, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.