The research proposal is a short document outlining why you would like to undertake research in a particular field, and the questions you seek to address.  At this point, you have no answers but only hunches or hypotheses about how things might be, might unfold, might reveal themselves.  Therefore, keep your proposal open enough to allow for such possibilities, and focused enough for your research to be manageable enough within your limited timeframe.  

As Prof Sallih Allie from the University of Cape Town once said, ‘You cannot change the world.  You might set out to study the forest, and end up studying a bark or leaf in the forest’.  So be sure to allow for flexibility in what you aim to find, while assuring your critical readers that you have a clear trajectory of how to get there.


Drafting the proposal

Common threads

While the proposal writing conventions differ across disciplines, there are some common threads: 1) title, 2) background / introduction, 3) social and theoretical context (i.e. the field), 4) rationale / objectives, 5) research questions, 6) research design (methodology briefly), 7) timeline, 8) reference list.

We would highly recommend that you check the departmental guidelines for your proposal.

On the whole, your proposal needs to offer a clear description of what, why and how you would like to undertake the research.  One would need to make sure that there is alignment between the topicresearch questions and the methods outlined to respond to the questions.


Drafting the concept note

Some of you may be required to write a concept note before embarking on the proposal.  

Watch the video below for some guidelines:

As you watch it, think about how the concept note might work for you.  Take a moment to reflect on these questions. Do not worry if you do not yet have clear answers  as yet.  These will emerge or might change.

  • What you might write about?
  • Why you would want to write a concept note or your chosen piece of research?
  • Who would be a good person to read your completed text?


Additional resources:

Pat Thomson on why this research: