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How to Write a Master's Thesis Proposal

How to Write a Master's Thesis Proposal

How to write a master’s thesis proposal is one of the most-asked questions by graduate students. A master's thesis proposal involves a copious amount of data collection, particular presentation ethics, and most importantly, it will become the roadmap to your full thesis. Remember, you must convince your committee that your idea is strong and unique, and that you have done enough legwork to begin with the first few drafts of your final thesis. Your proposal should serve as a foundational blueprint on which you will later build your entire project. To have the perfect thesis proposal, you need to have original ideas, solid information, and proper presentation. While it is a good idea to take assistance from thesis writing services , you still need to personally understand the elements that contribute to a master’s thesis proposal worthy of approval. In this blog, we will discuss the process of writing your master’s thesis proposal and give you tips for making your proposal strong. Stay tuned!

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Article Contents 8 min read

How to decide the goals for your master's thesis.

If you are pursuing a master’s or a PhD , you will be undertaking a major research paper or a thesis. Thus, writing a thesis proposal becomes inevitable. Your major objective for pursuing a master’s degree is to improve your knowledge in your field of study. When you start your degree, you delve deeper into different concepts in your discipline and try to search for answers to all kinds of questions. If you come across a question that no one can answer, you can select that question as your research thesis topic.

A master's thesis proposal will have multiple sections depending on your decided layout. These sections will continuously support your argument and try to convince the reader of your core argument. The structure will also help you arrange the various parts of the paper to have a greater impact on the readers. A paper should always begin with you giving a brief summary of the topic and how you have come across it. The introduction is particularly important because it will give the readers a brief idea about the topic of discussion and win their interest in the matter.

After the summary has been given, slowly you need to progress into the body of the thesis proposal which would explain your argument, research methodology, literary texts that have a relation to the topic, and the conclusion of your study. It would be similar to an essay or a literary review consisting of 3 or 4 parts. The bibliography will be placed at the end of the paper so that people can cross-check your sources.

Let's take a look at the sections most master's thesis proposals should cover. Please note that each university has its own guidelines for how to structure and what to include in a master’s thesis proposal. The outline we provide below is general, so please make sure to follow the exact guidelines provided by your school:

Restate your primary argument and give us a glimpse of what you will include in the main master\u2019s thesis. Leave the reader wanting more. Your research proposal should talk about what research chapters you are trying to undertake in your final thesis. You can also mention the proposed time in which you will complete these chapters.  ","label":"Conclusion and proposed chapters","title":"Conclusion and proposed chapters"}]" code="tab1" template="BlogArticle">

A thesis proposal needs to be convincing enough to get approval. If the information is not enough to satisfy the evaluation committee, it would require revision. Hence, you need to select and follow the right methodology to make your argument convincing. When a research proposal is presented, the reader will determine the validity of your argument by judging the strength of your evidence and conclusions. Therefore, even writige:ng a proposal will require extensive research on your part. You should start writing your thesis proposal by working through the following steps.

Interested in a summary of the points covered below? Check out this infographic:

Exploring your topic in detail

You need to delve deeper into your chosen topic to see if your idea is original. In the process of this exploration, you will find tons of materials that will be supportive of your argument. When choosing your research topic and the problem you want to explore, you should always consider your primary research interest (yes, the one which you had mentioned in your research interest statement during grad school applications) for a better master’s thesis. You have a high probability of performing better in an area that you have always liked as compared to any other research area or topic.

Reviewing the literature

You have to include all the sources from where you have formed your argument and mention them in the thesis proposal. If you neglect to mention important source texts, the reader may consider it to be plagiarism. Furthermore, you want to keep track of all your research because it will be easier to provide references if you know the exact source of each piece of information.

Finding opposing arguments for your study

You should also mention any texts that would counter your argument and try to disprove their claims in the thesis. Make sure to use evidence if you try to disprove the counterarguments you face.

Emphasizing the importance of your research

At the end of the thesis proposal, you need to convince the reader why your proposal is important to your chosen field of study, which would ultimately help you in getting your topic approved. Thus, it is essential to outline the importance of your research thoroughly.

Drafting your proposal

After doing proper research, you should go ahead and draft your proposal. Remember you will not get it right in just one draft, it will take at least 50 attempts to come up with a satisfactory proposal. You should proofread your draft several times and even have a fellow student review it for you before sending it further to your research supervisor.

Getting your proposal evaluated by your supervisor

After you have written sufficient drafts, you need to get your proposal evaluated by your research supervisor. This is necessary to meet the graduate research requirements. It will ensure the clarity and correctness of your proposal. For your supervisor to evaluate your proposal, you should complete the research methodology part along with sufficient proposed work.

Since your supervisor will play a crucial role in your master's research thesis, you must choose a supervisor who can be your ultimate guide in writing your master's thesis. They will be your partner and support system during your study and will help you in eliminating obstacles to achieving your goal.

Choosing the ideal supervisor is a pretty daunting task. Here’s how you can go about the process:

You should approach your professor with an open mind and discuss the potential goals of your research. You should hear what they think and then if you both mutually agree, you can choose them as your supervisor for your master\u2019s thesis. "}]">

Length of a Master’s Thesis Proposal

The length of a master’s thesis proposal differs from university to university and depends on the discipline of research as well. Usually, you have to include all the above-mentioned sections, and the length is around 8 pages and can go up to 12-15 pages for subjects such as the liberal arts. Universities might also define the number of words in the guidelines for your master’s thesis proposal and you have to adhere to that word limit.

Are you debating between pursuing a Masters or a PhD? This video has details that can help you decide which is best for you:

How to Format a Research Thesis Proposal Correctly?

Now that you know how to write a thesis proposal, you must make it presentable. Although your school might give your specific instructions, you can keep in mind some of the general advice:

  • You can use some basic font like Times New Roman and keep the font size to 10 or 12 points.
  • The left margin should be 1.5 inches and all other margins should be 1 inch each.
  • You should follow double-spacing for your content.
  • The first line of paragraphs should be indented 0.5 inches and the paragraphs should be left or center aligned.

Tips to Write a Strong Master's Thesis Proposal

When you are writing your master’s thesis proposal, you should keep these tips in mind to write an excellent master’s thesis proposal with all the correct elements to get approval from the evaluating committee:

Select your research objectives wisely

You should be clear on what you wish to learn from your research. Your learning objectives should stem from your research interests. If you are unsure, refer to your grad school career goals statement to review what you wanted out of grad school in the first place. Then, choose your objectives around it.

Write a clear title

The title of your research proposal should be concise and written in a language that can be understood easily by others. The title should be able to give the reader an idea of your intended research and should be interesting.

Jot down your thoughts, arguments, and evidence

You should always start with a rough outline of your arguments because you will not miss any point in this way. Brainstorm what you want to include in the proposal and then expand those points to complete your proposal. You can decide the major headings with the help of the guidelines provided to you.

Focus on the feasibility and importance

You should consider whether your research is feasible with the available resources. Additionally, your proposal should clearly convey the significance of your research in your field.

Use simple language

Since the evaluation committee can have researchers from different subject areas, it is best to write your proposal in a simple language that is understandable by all.

Stick to the guidelines

Your university will be providing the guidelines for writing your research proposal. You should adhere to those guidelines strictly since your proposal will be primarily evaluated on the basis of those.

Have an impactful opening section

It is a no-brainer that the opening statement of your proposal should be powerful enough to grasp the attention of the readers and get them interested in your research topic. You should be able to convey your interest and enthusiasm in the introductory section.

Peer review prior to submission

Apart from working with your research supervisor, it is essential that you ask some classmates and friends to review your proposal. The comments and suggestions that they give will be valuable in helping you to make the language of your proposal clearer.

You have worked hard to get into grad school and even harder on searching your research topic. Thus, you must be careful while building your thesis proposal so that you have maximum chances of acceptance.

If you're curious how your graduate school education will differ from your undergraduate education, take a look at this video so you know what to expect:

Writing the perfect research proposal might be challenging, but keeping to the basics might make your task easier. In a nutshell, you need to be thorough in your study question. You should conduct sufficient research to gather all relevant materials required to support your argument. After collecting all data, make sure to present it systematically to give a clearer understanding and convince the evaluators to approve your proposal. Lastly, remember to submit your proposal well within the deadline set by your university. Your performance at grad school is essential, especially if you need a graduate degree to gain admission to med school and your thesis contributes to that performance. Thus, start with a suitable research problem, draft a strong proposal, and then begin with your thesis after your proposal is approved.

In your master’s thesis proposal, you should include your research topic and the problem statement being addressed in your research, along with a proposed solution. The proposal should explain the importance and limitations of your research.

The length of a master’s thesis proposal is outlined by the university in the instructions for preparing your master’s thesis proposal.

The time taken to write a master’s thesis proposal depends upon the study which you are undertaking and your discipline of research. It will take a minimum time of three months. The ideal time can be around six months. 

You should begin your master’s thesis proposal by writing an introduction to your research topic. You should state your topic clearly and provide some background. Keep notes and rough drafts of your proposal so you can always refer to them when you write the first real draft.

The basic sections that your master’s thesis proposal should cover are the problem statement, research methodology, proposed activities, importance, and the limitations of your research.

A master’s thesis proposal which clearly defines the problem in a straightforward and explains the research methodology in simple words is considered a good thesis proposal.

You can use any classic font for your master’s thesis proposal such as Times New Roman. If you are recommended a specific font in the proposal guidelines by your institution, it would be advisable to stick to that.

The ideal font size for your master’s thesis proposal will be 10 or 12 points.

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how long should a masters research proposal be

How to write a good research proposal (in 9 steps)

A good research proposal is one of the keys to academic success. For bachelor’s and master’s students, the quality of a research proposal often determines whether the master’s program= can be completed or not. For PhD students, a research proposal is often the first step to securing a university position. This step-by-step manual guides you through the main stages of proposal writing.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase using the links below at no additional cost to you . I only recommend products or services that I truly believe can benefit my audience. As always, my opinions are my own.

1. Find a topic for your research proposal

Writing a master’s thesis takes a minimum of several weeks. In the case of PhD dissertations, it takes years. That is a long time! You don’t want to be stuck with a topic that you don’t care about.

How to find a research topic? Start broadly: Which courses did you enjoy? What issues discussed during seminars or lectures did you like? What inspired you during your education? And which readings did you appreciate?

Then, think more strategically. Maybe you have a rough idea of where you would like to work after graduation. Maybe a specific sector. Or even a particular company. If so, you could strategically alight your thesis topic with an issue that matters to your dream employer. Or even ask for a thesis internship.

2. Develop your research idea

Once you pinpoint your general topic of interest, you need to develop your idea.

Remember that a good research proposal is not written in a day.

And third, don’t forget: a good proposal aims to establish a convincing framework that will guide your future research. Not to provide all the answers already. You need to show that you have a feasible idea.

3. Conduct a literature review for your research proposal

Academic publications (journal articles and books) are the foundation of any research. Thus, academic literature is a good place to start. Especially when you still feel kind of lost regarding a focused research topic.

Look at what has been published in the last 5 years, not before. You don’t want to be outdated.

4. Define a research gap and research question

Once you read academic publications on your topic of interest, ask yourself questions such as:

Asking yourself these questions helps you to formulate your research question. In your research question, be as specific as possible.

5. Establish a theoretical framework for your research proposal

It is not only accepted but often encouraged to make use of existing theories. Or maybe you can combine two different theories to establish your framework.

6. Specify an empirical focus for your research proposal

Maybe your empirical investigation will have geographic boundaries (like focusing on one city, or one country). Or maybe it focuses on one group of people (such as the elderly, CEOs, doctors, you name it).

7. Emphasise the scientific and societal relevance of your research proposal

Do the grandparent test: Explain what you want to do to your grandparents (or any other person for that matter). Explain why it matters. Do your grandparents understand what you say? If so, well done. If not, try again.

8. Develop a methodology in your research proposal

The methodology is a system of methods that you will use to implement your research. A methodology explains how you plan to answer your research question.

9. Illustrate your research timeline in your research proposal

Master academia, get new content delivered directly to your inbox, phd thesis types: monograph and collection of articles, ten reasons not to pursue an academic career, related articles, the 11 best ai tools for academic writing, how to harness theoretical and conceptual frameworks for groundbreaking research, theoretical vs. conceptual frameworks: simple definitions and an overview of key differences, a guide to industry-funded research: types, examples & getting started.

Grad Coach

How To Write A Research Proposal

A Straightforward How-To Guide (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | August 2019 (Updated April 2023)

Writing up a strong research proposal for a dissertation or thesis is much like a marriage proposal. It’s a task that calls on you to win somebody over and persuade them that what you’re planning is a great idea. An idea they’re happy to say ‘yes’ to. This means that your dissertation proposal needs to be   persuasive ,   attractive   and well-planned. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a winning dissertation proposal, from scratch.

Before you start:

– Understand exactly what a research proposal is – Ask yourself these 4 questions

The 5 essential ingredients:

  • The title/topic
  • The introduction chapter
  • The scope/delimitations
  • Preliminary literature review
  • Design/ methodology
  • Practical considerations and risks 

What Is A Research Proposal?

The research proposal is literally that: a written document that communicates what you propose to research, in a concise format. It’s where you put all that stuff that’s spinning around in your head down on to paper, in a logical, convincing fashion.

Convincing   is the keyword here, as your research proposal needs to convince the assessor that your research is   clearly articulated   (i.e., a clear research question) ,   worth doing   (i.e., is unique and valuable enough to justify the effort), and   doable   within the restrictions you’ll face (time limits, budget, skill limits, etc.). If your proposal does not address these three criteria, your research won’t be approved, no matter how “exciting” the research idea might be.

PS – if you’re completely new to proposal writing, we’ve got a detailed walkthrough video covering two successful research proposals here . 

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

How do I know I’m ready?

Before starting the writing process, you need to   ask yourself 4 important questions .  If you can’t answer them succinctly and confidently, you’re not ready – you need to go back and think more deeply about your dissertation topic .

You should be able to answer the following 4 questions before starting your dissertation or thesis research proposal:

  • WHAT is my main research question? (the topic)
  • WHO cares and why is this important? (the justification)
  • WHAT data would I need to answer this question, and how will I analyse it? (the research design)
  • HOW will I manage the completion of this research, within the given timelines? (project and risk management)

If you can’t answer these questions clearly and concisely,   you’re not yet ready   to write your research proposal – revisit our   post on choosing a topic .

If you can, that’s great – it’s time to start writing up your dissertation proposal. Next, I’ll discuss what needs to go into your research proposal, and how to structure it all into an intuitive, convincing document with a linear narrative.

The 5 Essential Ingredients

Research proposals can vary in style between institutions and disciplines, but here I’ll share with you a   handy 5-section structure   you can use. These 5 sections directly address the core questions we spoke about earlier, ensuring that you present a convincing proposal. If your institution already provides a proposal template, there will likely be substantial overlap with this, so you’ll still get value from reading on.

For each section discussed below, make sure you use headers and sub-headers (ideally, numbered headers) to help the reader navigate through your document, and to support them when they need to revisit a previous section. Don’t just present an endless wall of text, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph…

Top Tip:   Use MS Word Styles to format headings. This will allow you to be clear about whether a sub-heading is level 2, 3, or 4. Additionally, you can view your document in ‘outline view’ which will show you only your headings. This makes it much easier to check your structure, shift things around and make decisions about where a section needs to sit. You can also generate a 100% accurate table of contents using Word’s automatic functionality.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Ingredient #1 – Topic/Title Header

Your research proposal’s title should be your main research question in its simplest form, possibly with a sub-heading providing basic details on the specifics of the study. For example:

“Compliance with equality legislation in the charity sector: a study of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ made in three London care homes”

As you can see, this title provides a clear indication of what the research is about, in broad terms. It paints a high-level picture for the first-time reader, which gives them a taste of what to expect.   Always aim for a clear, concise title . Don’t feel the need to capture every detail of your research in your title – your proposal will fill in the gaps.

Need a helping hand?

how long should a masters research proposal be

Ingredient #2 – Introduction

In this section of your research proposal, you’ll expand on what you’ve communicated in the title, by providing a few paragraphs which offer more detail about your research topic. Importantly, the focus here is the   topic   – what will you research and why is that worth researching? This is not the place to discuss methodology, practicalities, etc. – you’ll do that later.

You should cover the following:

  • An overview of the   broad area   you’ll be researching – introduce the reader to key concepts and language
  • An explanation of the   specific (narrower) area   you’ll be focusing, and why you’ll be focusing there
  • Your research   aims   and   objectives
  • Your   research question (s) and sub-questions (if applicable)

Importantly, you should aim to use short sentences and plain language – don’t babble on with extensive jargon, acronyms and complex language. Assume that the reader is an intelligent layman – not a subject area specialist (even if they are). Remember that the   best writing is writing that can be easily understood   and digested. Keep it simple.

The introduction section serves to expand on the  research topic – what will you study and why is that worth dedicating time and effort to?

Note that some universities may want some extra bits and pieces in your introduction section. For example, personal development objectives, a structural outline, etc. Check your brief to see if there are any other details they expect in your proposal, and make sure you find a place for these.

Ingredient #3 – Scope

Next, you’ll need to specify what the scope of your research will be – this is also known as the delimitations . In other words, you need to make it clear what you will be covering and, more importantly, what you won’t be covering in your research. Simply put, this is about ring fencing your research topic so that you have a laser-sharp focus.

All too often, students feel the need to go broad and try to address as many issues as possible, in the interest of producing comprehensive research. Whilst this is admirable, it’s a mistake. By tightly refining your scope, you’ll enable yourself to   go deep   with your research, which is what you need to earn good marks. If your scope is too broad, you’re likely going to land up with superficial research (which won’t earn marks), so don’t be afraid to narrow things down.

Ingredient #4 – Literature Review

In this section of your research proposal, you need to provide a (relatively) brief discussion of the existing literature. Naturally, this will not be as comprehensive as the literature review in your actual dissertation, but it will lay the foundation for that. In fact, if you put in the effort at this stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when it’s time to write your actual literature review chapter.

There are a few things you need to achieve in this section:

  • Demonstrate that you’ve done your reading and are   familiar with the current state of the research   in your topic area.
  • Show that   there’s a clear gap   for your specific research – i.e., show that your topic is sufficiently unique and will add value to the existing research.
  • Show how the existing research has shaped your thinking regarding   research design . For example, you might use scales or questionnaires from previous studies.

When you write up your literature review, keep these three objectives front of mind, especially number two (revealing the gap in the literature), so that your literature review has a   clear purpose and direction . Everything you write should be contributing towards one (or more) of these objectives in some way. If it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself whether it’s truly needed.

Top Tip:  Don’t fall into the trap of just describing the main pieces of literature, for example, “A says this, B says that, C also says that…” and so on. Merely describing the literature provides no value. Instead, you need to   synthesise   it, and use it to address the three objectives above.

 If you put in the effort at the proposal stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when its time to write your actual literature review chapter.

Ingredient #5 – Research Methodology

Now that you’ve clearly explained both your intended research topic (in the introduction) and the existing research it will draw on (in the literature review section), it’s time to get practical and explain exactly how you’ll be carrying out your own research. In other words, your research methodology.

In this section, you’ll need to   answer two critical questions :

  • How   will you design your research? I.e., what research methodology will you adopt, what will your sample be, how will you collect data, etc.
  • Why   have you chosen this design? I.e., why does this approach suit your specific research aims, objectives and questions?

In other words, this is not just about explaining WHAT you’ll be doing, it’s also about explaining WHY. In fact, the   justification is the most important part , because that justification is how you demonstrate a good understanding of research design (which is what assessors want to see).

Some essential design choices you need to cover in your research proposal include:

  • Your intended research philosophy (e.g., positivism, interpretivism or pragmatism )
  • What methodological approach you’ll be taking (e.g., qualitative , quantitative or mixed )
  • The details of your sample (e.g., sample size, who they are, who they represent, etc.)
  • What data you plan to collect (i.e. data about what, in what form?)
  • How you plan to collect it (e.g., surveys , interviews , focus groups, etc.)
  • How you plan to analyse it (e.g., regression analysis, thematic analysis , etc.)
  • Ethical adherence (i.e., does this research satisfy all ethical requirements of your institution, or does it need further approval?)

This list is not exhaustive – these are just some core attributes of research design. Check with your institution what level of detail they expect. The “ research onion ” by Saunders et al (2009) provides a good summary of the various design choices you ultimately need to make – you can   read more about that here .

Don’t forget the practicalities…

In addition to the technical aspects, you will need to address the   practical   side of the project. In other words, you need to explain   what resources you’ll need   (e.g., time, money, access to equipment or software, etc.) and how you intend to secure these resources. You need to show that your project is feasible, so any “make or break” type resources need to already be secured. The success or failure of your project cannot depend on some resource which you’re not yet sure you have access to.

Another part of the practicalities discussion is   project and risk management . In other words, you need to show that you have a clear project plan to tackle your research with. Some key questions to address:

  • What are the timelines for each phase of your project?
  • Are the time allocations reasonable?
  • What happens if something takes longer than anticipated (risk management)?
  • What happens if you don’t get the response rate you expect?

A good way to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through is to include a Gantt chart and a risk register (in the appendix if word count is a problem). With these two tools, you can show that you’ve got a clear, feasible plan, and you’ve thought about and accounted for the potential risks.

Gantt chart

Tip – Be honest about the potential difficulties – but show that you are anticipating solutions and workarounds. This is much more impressive to an assessor than an unrealistically optimistic proposal which does not anticipate any challenges whatsoever.

Final Touches: Read And Simplify

The final step is to edit and proofread your proposal – very carefully. It sounds obvious, but all too often poor editing and proofreading ruin a good proposal. Nothing is more off-putting for an assessor than a poorly edited, typo-strewn document. It sends the message that you either do not pay attention to detail, or just don’t care. Neither of these are good messages. Put the effort into editing and proofreading your proposal (or pay someone to do it for you) – it will pay dividends.

When you’re editing, watch out for ‘academese’. Many students can speak simply, passionately and clearly about their dissertation topic – but become incomprehensible the moment they turn the laptop on. You are not required to write in any kind of special, formal, complex language when you write academic work. Sure, there may be technical terms, jargon specific to your discipline, shorthand terms and so on. But, apart from those,   keep your written language very close to natural spoken language   – just as you would speak in the classroom. Imagine that you are explaining your project plans to your classmates or a family member. Remember, write for the intelligent layman, not the subject matter experts. Plain-language, concise writing is what wins hearts and minds – and marks!

Let’s Recap: Research Proposal 101

And there you have it – how to write your dissertation or thesis research proposal, from the title page to the final proof. Here’s a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • The purpose of the research proposal is to   convince   – therefore, you need to make a clear, concise argument of why your research is both worth doing and doable.
  • Make sure you can ask the critical what, who, and how questions of your research   before   you put pen to paper.
  • Title – provides the first taste of your research, in broad terms
  • Introduction – explains what you’ll be researching in more detail
  • Scope – explains the boundaries of your research
  • Literature review – explains how your research fits into the existing research and why it’s unique and valuable
  • Research methodology – explains and justifies how you will carry out your own research

Hopefully, this post has helped you better understand how to write up a winning research proposal. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . If your university doesn’t provide any template for your proposal, you might want to try out our free research proposal template .

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Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling short course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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30 Comments

Mazwakhe Mkhulisi

Thank you so much for the valuable insight that you have given, especially on the research proposal. That is what I have managed to cover. I still need to go back to the other parts as I got disturbed while still listening to Derek’s audio on you-tube. I am inspired. I will definitely continue with Grad-coach guidance on You-tube.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the kind words :). All the best with your proposal.

NAVEEN ANANTHARAMAN

First of all, thanks a lot for making such a wonderful presentation. The video was really useful and gave me a very clear insight of how a research proposal has to be written. I shall try implementing these ideas in my RP.

Once again, I thank you for this content.

Bonginkosi Mshengu

I found reading your outline on writing research proposal very beneficial. I wish there was a way of submitting my draft proposal to you guys for critiquing before I submit to the institution.

Hi Bonginkosi

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, we do provide a review service. The best starting point is to have a chat with one of our coaches here: https://gradcoach.com/book/new/ .

Erick Omondi

Hello team GRADCOACH, may God bless you so much. I was totally green in research. Am so happy for your free superb tutorials and resources. Once again thank you so much Derek and his team.

You’re welcome, Erick. Good luck with your research proposal 🙂

ivy

thank you for the information. its precise and on point.

Nighat Nighat Ahsan

Really a remarkable piece of writing and great source of guidance for the researchers. GOD BLESS YOU for your guidance. Regards

Delfina Celeste Danca Rangel

Thanks so much for your guidance. It is easy and comprehensive the way you explain the steps for a winning research proposal.

Desiré Forku

Thank you guys so much for the rich post. I enjoyed and learn from every word in it. My problem now is how to get into your platform wherein I can always seek help on things related to my research work ? Secondly, I wish to find out if there is a way I can send my tentative proposal to you guys for examination before I take to my supervisor Once again thanks very much for the insights

Thanks for your kind words, Desire.

If you are based in a country where Grad Coach’s paid services are available, you can book a consultation by clicking the “Book” button in the top right.

Best of luck with your studies.

Adolph

May God bless you team for the wonderful work you are doing,

If I have a topic, Can I submit it to you so that you can draft a proposal for me?? As I am expecting to go for masters degree in the near future.

Thanks for your comment. We definitely cannot draft a proposal for you, as that would constitute academic misconduct. The proposal needs to be your own work. We can coach you through the process, but it needs to be your own work and your own writing.

Best of luck with your research!

kenate Akuma

I found a lot of many essential concepts from your material. it is real a road map to write a research proposal. so thanks a lot. If there is any update material on your hand on MBA please forward to me.

Ahmed Khalil

GradCoach is a professional website that presents support and helps for MBA student like me through the useful online information on the page and with my 1-on-1 online coaching with the amazing and professional PhD Kerryen.

Thank you Kerryen so much for the support and help 🙂

I really recommend dealing with such a reliable services provider like Gradcoah and a coach like Kerryen.

PINTON OFOSU

Hi, Am happy for your service and effort to help students and researchers, Please, i have been given an assignment on research for strategic development, the task one is to formulate a research proposal to support the strategic development of a business area, my issue here is how to go about it, especially the topic or title and introduction. Please, i would like to know if you could help me and how much is the charge.

Marcos A. López Figueroa

This content is practical, valuable, and just great!

Thank you very much!

Eric Rwigamba

Hi Derek, Thank you for the valuable presentation. It is very helpful especially for beginners like me. I am just starting my PhD.

Hussein EGIELEMAI

This is quite instructive and research proposal made simple. Can I have a research proposal template?

Mathew Yokie Musa

Great! Thanks for rescuing me, because I had no former knowledge in this topic. But with this piece of information, I am now secured. Thank you once more.

Chulekazi Bula

I enjoyed listening to your video on how to write a proposal. I think I will be able to write a winning proposal with your advice. I wish you were to be my supervisor.

Mohammad Ajmal Shirzad

Dear Derek Jansen,

Thank you for your great content. I couldn’t learn these topics in MBA, but now I learned from GradCoach. Really appreciate your efforts….

From Afghanistan!

Mulugeta Yilma

I have got very essential inputs for startup of my dissertation proposal. Well organized properly communicated with video presentation. Thank you for the presentation.

Siphesihle Macu

Wow, this is absolutely amazing guys. Thank you so much for the fruitful presentation, you’ve made my research much easier.

HAWANATU JULLIANA JOSEPH

this helps me a lot. thank you all so much for impacting in us. may god richly bless you all

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How I wish I’d learn about Grad Coach earlier. I’ve been stumbling around writing and rewriting! Now I have concise clear directions on how to put this thing together. Thank you!

Jas

Fantastic!! Thank You for this very concise yet comprehensive guidance.

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Even if I am poor in English I would like to thank you very much.

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Thank you very much, this is very insightful.

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How to Write a Dissertation Proposal | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on 14 February 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 11 November 2022.

A dissertation proposal describes the research you want to do: what it’s about, how you’ll conduct it, and why it’s worthwhile. You will probably have to write a proposal before starting your dissertation as an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

A dissertation proposal should generally include:

  • An introduction to your topic and aims
  • A literature review  of the current state of knowledge
  • An outline of your proposed methodology
  • A discussion of the possible implications of the research
  • A bibliography  of relevant sources

Dissertation proposals vary a lot in terms of length and structure, so make sure to follow any guidelines given to you by your institution, and check with your supervisor when you’re unsure.

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Table of contents

Step 1: coming up with an idea, step 2: presenting your idea in the introduction, step 3: exploring related research in the literature review, step 4: describing your methodology, step 5: outlining the potential implications of your research, step 6: creating a reference list or bibliography.

Before writing your proposal, it’s important to come up with a strong idea for your dissertation.

Find an area of your field that interests you and do some preliminary reading in that area. What are the key concerns of other researchers? What do they suggest as areas for further research, and what strikes you personally as an interesting gap in the field?

Once you have an idea, consider how to narrow it down and the best way to frame it. Don’t be too ambitious or too vague – a dissertation topic needs to be specific enough to be feasible. Move from a broad field of interest to a specific niche:

  • Russian literature 19th century Russian literature The novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
  • Social media Mental health effects of social media Influence of social media on young adults suffering from anxiety

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Like most academic texts, a dissertation proposal begins with an introduction . This is where you introduce the topic of your research, provide some background, and most importantly, present your aim , objectives and research question(s) .

Try to dive straight into your chosen topic: What’s at stake in your research? Why is it interesting? Don’t spend too long on generalisations or grand statements:

  • Social media is the most important technological trend of the 21st century. It has changed the world and influences our lives every day.
  • Psychologists generally agree that the ubiquity of social media in the lives of young adults today has a profound impact on their mental health. However, the exact nature of this impact needs further investigation.

Once your area of research is clear, you can present more background and context. What does the reader need to know to understand your proposed questions? What’s the current state of research on this topic, and what will your dissertation contribute to the field?

If you’re including a literature review, you don’t need to go into too much detail at this point, but give the reader a general sense of the debates that you’re intervening in.

This leads you into the most important part of the introduction: your aim, objectives and research question(s) . These should be clearly identifiable and stand out from the text – for example, you could present them using bullet points or bold font.

Make sure that your research questions are specific and workable – something you can reasonably answer within the scope of your dissertation. Avoid being too broad or having too many different questions. Remember that your goal in a dissertation proposal is to convince the reader that your research is valuable and feasible:

  • Does social media harm mental health?
  • What is the impact of daily social media use on 18– to 25–year–olds suffering from general anxiety disorder?

Now that your topic is clear, it’s time to explore existing research covering similar ideas. This is important because it shows you what is missing from other research in the field and ensures that you’re not asking a question someone else has already answered.

You’ve probably already done some preliminary reading, but now that your topic is more clearly defined, you need to thoroughly analyse and evaluate the most relevant sources in your literature review .

Here you should summarise the findings of other researchers and comment on gaps and problems in their studies. There may be a lot of research to cover, so make effective use of paraphrasing to write concisely:

  • Smith and Prakash state that ‘our results indicate a 25% decrease in the incidence of mechanical failure after the new formula was applied’.
  • Smith and Prakash’s formula reduced mechanical failures by 25%.

The point is to identify findings and theories that will influence your own research, but also to highlight gaps and limitations in previous research which your dissertation can address:

  • Subsequent research has failed to replicate this result, however, suggesting a flaw in Smith and Prakash’s methods. It is likely that the failure resulted from…

Next, you’ll describe your proposed methodology : the specific things you hope to do, the structure of your research and the methods that you will use to gather and analyse data.

You should get quite specific in this section – you need to convince your supervisor that you’ve thought through your approach to the research and can realistically carry it out. This section will look quite different, and vary in length, depending on your field of study.

You may be engaged in more empirical research, focusing on data collection and discovering new information, or more theoretical research, attempting to develop a new conceptual model or add nuance to an existing one.

Dissertation research often involves both, but the content of your methodology section will vary according to how important each approach is to your dissertation.

Empirical research

Empirical research involves collecting new data and analysing it in order to answer your research questions. It can be quantitative (focused on numbers), qualitative (focused on words and meanings), or a combination of both.

With empirical research, it’s important to describe in detail how you plan to collect your data:

  • Will you use surveys ? A lab experiment ? Interviews?
  • What variables will you measure?
  • How will you select a representative sample ?
  • If other people will participate in your research, what measures will you take to ensure they are treated ethically?
  • What tools (conceptual and physical) will you use, and why?

It’s appropriate to cite other research here. When you need to justify your choice of a particular research method or tool, for example, you can cite a text describing the advantages and appropriate usage of that method.

Don’t overdo this, though; you don’t need to reiterate the whole theoretical literature, just what’s relevant to the choices you have made.

Moreover, your research will necessarily involve analysing the data after you have collected it. Though you don’t know yet what the data will look like, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and indicate what methods (e.g. statistical tests , thematic analysis ) you will use.

Theoretical research

You can also do theoretical research that doesn’t involve original data collection. In this case, your methodology section will focus more on the theory you plan to work with in your dissertation: relevant conceptual models and the approach you intend to take.

For example, a literary analysis dissertation rarely involves collecting new data, but it’s still necessary to explain the theoretical approach that will be taken to the text(s) under discussion, as well as which parts of the text(s) you will focus on:

  • This dissertation will utilise Foucault’s theory of panopticism to explore the theme of surveillance in Orwell’s 1984 and Kafka’s The Trial…

Here, you may refer to the same theorists you have already discussed in the literature review. In this case, the emphasis is placed on how you plan to use their contributions in your own research.

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You’ll usually conclude your dissertation proposal with a section discussing what you expect your research to achieve.

You obviously can’t be too sure: you don’t know yet what your results and conclusions will be. Instead, you should describe the projected implications and contribution to knowledge of your dissertation.

First, consider the potential implications of your research. Will you:

  • Develop or test a theory?
  • Provide new information to governments or businesses?
  • Challenge a commonly held belief?
  • Suggest an improvement to a specific process?

Describe the intended result of your research and the theoretical or practical impact it will have:

Finally, it’s sensible to conclude by briefly restating the contribution to knowledge you hope to make: the specific question(s) you hope to answer and the gap the answer(s) will fill in existing knowledge:

Like any academic text, it’s important that your dissertation proposal effectively references all the sources you have used. You need to include a properly formatted reference list or bibliography at the end of your proposal.

Different institutions recommend different styles of referencing – commonly used styles include Harvard , Vancouver , APA , or MHRA . If your department does not have specific requirements, choose a style and apply it consistently.

A reference list includes only the sources that you cited in your proposal. A bibliography is slightly different: it can include every source you consulted in preparing the proposal, even if you didn’t mention it in the text. In the case of a dissertation proposal, a bibliography may also list relevant sources that you haven’t yet read, but that you intend to use during the research itself.

Check with your supervisor what type of bibliography or reference list you should include.

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Caulfield, J. (2022, November 11). How to Write a Dissertation Proposal | A Step-by-Step Guide. Scribbr. Retrieved 9 June 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/proposal/

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  • Masters Dissertation Proposals

Written by Sarah Hastings-Woodhouse

Before you can get down to the task of writing your Masters dissertation , you’ll need to submit a proposal, which will outline the objectives of your research and a how you plan to complete it. In this guide, we’ll cover what a dissertation proposal is and what it should include.

What is a Masters dissertation proposal?

You may have already written a dissertation proposal for your undergraduate degree – in which case you’ll be pleased to hear that the process isn’t that different at Masters level. In short, it should introduce the research question you intend to answer, and outline how you plan to do so.

Your proposal should demonstrate that you’ve thought carefully about your project and that you’re well equipped to undertake it – though it doesn’t need to provide an exact blueprint for your final dissertation. Research is a fluid process, and it’s likely that your objectives and methodology will evolve over time.

What should my Masters dissertation proposal include?

We’ve provided a rough guideline to what your proposal should contain below. This is not an exhaustive list, and your department may have specific requirements. There are many ways to structure your proposal – so don’t feel that you need to stick with the order we’ve used (your university may also provide you with a premade template!).

Introduction

This should include a working title (although this is not set in stone!) and a brief description of your research topic, objectives and the questions you intend to answer. You should also establish the scope of your research (a Masters student in History might specify a particular time period to be focused on, for example).

At the end of your introduction, you may want to include an overview of how the rest of your proposal will be structured.

Preliminary literature review

Your literature review should list the key texts that you will consult in your research and summarise the contributions they have made to the field. Make sure you explain why you have chosen these works as your key sources, and exactly how you intend to use them.

This is also an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of the academic context in which your research will take place. What other research has already been conducted in this area, and how will your work expand, enrich, or complicate our understanding of it?

You might also want to mention any previous work you have done in this area – a module you have studied in the past, for example – and how you will fill existing gaps in your knowledge.

Research methodology

This is where you’ll get into the nitty gritty of exactly how you’ll achieve your research objectives. You’ll have specified your key sources in your literature review – but now you’ll need to break down precisely what qualitative or quantitative data you will extract from them, as well as how you’ll collect any primary data.

Beyond laying out your research game-plan, it’s important to justify your decisions. What makes your chosen methodologies particularly appropriate to your research? Can you foresee any biases or constraints that they might present, and how will you overcome them?

Be as precise as you can about the research tools you’ll employ – these could include lab-based experiments, surveys, interviews or participant observation to name just a few.

Of course, not every project will involve direct experimentation or the collection of your own empirical data – but this does not mean you should be any less exact in detailing your research approach. You might be planning to examine a source through a particular theoretical framework, for example.

Research aims

Here you’ll outline exactly what you hope to achieve by the end of your project. You may also wish to predict what the outcome of your research is will be (though this is likely to change once you get stuck in to writing the dissertation itself!).

Make sure you are realistic about what your research can achieve. The scope of your project needs to be narrow enough that you can thoroughly address it within the dissertation word count. The purpose of a dissertation proposal, beyond explaining what your aims are, is demonstrating that they are feasible! Which brings us onto our next section…

Constraints and limitations

Sadly, there is a limit to what can be accomplished in 15,000-20,000 words! It’s important to include not only what your research will address but also what it will not. This is also a useful way of situating your work within a larger body of knowledge – by specifying the limits of your research, you’re acknowledging that your work is a small (but important!) piece of a wider academic puzzle.

Ethical considerations

If you’re planning on conducting any experiments with human participants, it’s important to make sure you address any ethical concerns. This might include specifying how you will obtain informed consent and maintain confidentiality. Your university should have its own policy on research ethics, as well as guidance on how you can carry out you work in accordance with it.

Bibliography

Your bibliography should consist of properly formatted references of all the sources mentioned in your proposal, as well as any others that you plan to use in the dissertation itself. Don't leave this part to the last minute! Remember to keep track of any sources you are consulting as you go, to save yourself the headache of tracking them all down later.

How long should my Masters dissertation proposal be?

Word limits for dissertation proposals can vary considerably depending on your discipline. Humanities departments will generally require a proposal of around 1,000 words (this can occasionally be up to 2,000), while a proposal for a STEM dissertation could be as short as 250-350 words . Your department will provide guidance on this.

Hopefully, this guide has given you an idea of what you Masters dissertation proposal should include. Though it will likely not count towards your overall grade, it’s worth using the proposal writing process as an opportunity to put in some serious groundwork. This will help you parse and flesh out your ideas and provide you will with an invaluable resource that you can draw on later in the writing process!

For more information, check out our full guide to researching and writing your Masters dissertation .

how long should a masters research proposal be

Applying for a Masters can feel a bit daunting. Here is a checklist of all the things you need to do to make sure you have everything covered in your Masters application.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Postgraduate study is often very flexible, with the option to study a Masters degree or other qualification part-time, online or through blended learning.

how long should a masters research proposal be

How do Bachelors and Masters courses differ? We’ve covered the main differences you’ll encounter when making the transition from undergrad to postgrad study.

how long should a masters research proposal be

All Masters programmes include some form of extended individual project or dissertation. This guide covers how to structure a Masters dissertation, word count, how the work is assessed and what you should expect from your dissertation supervisor.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Our guide explains how online Masters degree work, what the benefits of online learning are and how to choose what to study online.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Our guide tells you everything about the application process for studying a Masters in Italy.

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How to write a research proposal for a Master's dissertation

Unsure how to start your research proposal as part of your dissertation read below our top tips from banking and finance student, nelly, on how to structure your proposal and make sure it's a strong, formative foundation to build your dissertation..

It's understandable if the proposal part of your dissertation feels like a waste of time. Why not just get started on the dissertation itself? Isn't 'proposal' a just fancy word for a plan?

It's important to see your Master's research proposal not only as a requirement but as a way of formalising your ideas and mapping out the direction and purpose of your dissertation. A strong, carefully prepared proposal is instrumental in writing a good dissertation.

How to structure a research proposal for a Master's dissertation

First things first: what do you need to include in a research proposal? The recommended structure of your proposal is:

  • Motivation: introduce your research question and give an overview of the topic, explain the importance of your research
  • Theory:  draw on existing pieces of research that are relevant to your topic of choice, leading up to your question and identifying how your dissertation will explore new territory
  • Data and methodology: how do you plan to answer the research question? Explain your data sources and methodology
  • Expected results: finally, what will the outcome be? What do you think your data and methodology will find?

72657

Top Tips for Writing a Dissertation Research Proposal

Choose a dissertation topic well in advance of starting to write it

Allow existing research to guide you

Make your research questions as specific as possible

When you choose a topic, it will naturally be very broad and general. For example, Market Efficiency . Under this umbrella term, there are so many questions you could explore and challenge. But, it's so important that you hone in on one very specific question, such as ' How do presidential elections affect market efficiency?'  When it comes to your Master's, the more specific and clear-cut the better.

Collate your bibliography as you go

Everyone knows it's best practice to update your bibliography as you go, but that doesn't just apply to the main bibliography document you submit with your dissertation. Get in the habit of writing down the title, author and date of the relevant article next to every note you make - you'll be grateful you did it later down the line!

Colour code your notes based on which part of the proposal they apply to

Use highlighters and sticky notes to keep track of why you thought a certain research piece was useful, and what you intended to use it for. For example, if you've underlined lots of sections of a research article when it comes to pulling your research proposal together it will take you longer to remember what piece of research applies to where.

Instead, you may want to highlight anything that could inform your methodology in blue, any quotations that will form your theory in yellow etc. This will save you time and stress later down the line.

Write your Motivation after your Theory

Your Motivation section will be that much more coherent and specific if you write it after you've done all your research. All the reading you have done for your Theory will better cement the importance of your research, as well as provide plenty of context for you to write in detail your motivation. Think about the difference between ' I'm doing this because I'm interested in it ' vs. ' I'm doing this because I'm passionate, and I've noticed a clear gap in this area of study which is detailed below in example A, B and C .'

Make sure your Data and Methodology section is to the point and succinct

Link your Expectations to existing research

Your expectations should be based on research and data, not conjecture and assumptions. It doesn't matter if the end results match up to what you expected, as long as both of these sections are informed by research and data. 

Discover Postgraduate Study at Newcastle

Published By Nelly on 01/09/2020 | Last Updated 23/01/2024

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Guidelines to Writing a Research Proposal

All Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) students must write an acceptable research proposal.

This has a clear and explicit purpose:

  • it makes certain that you have a worthwhile research project - you have a good grasp of the relevant literature and the major issues, and that your methodology is sound;
  • it will show that you have the competence and work-plan to complete the research;
  • it includes sufficient information for us to evaluate the proposed study; and
  • we can be certain we have the right staff expertise to supervise you.

All research proposals must address the question of what you plan to accomplish and why you want to and how you are going to do it.

A research proposal is usually around 2,500 words long although there is no upper or lower limit to this.

In preparing a research proposal, the first thing that you have to do is to decide what it really is that you want to know more about. The questions that you want to research have to viable as a research project and lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding.

Your research proposal should include a section on each of the following areas:

This should be concise and descriptive.

This section needs to explain the background and issues of your proposed research - how you came to be interested in this subject.

You can summarise what you know of the existing literature in this area, perhaps identifying where it does and does not provide enlightenment on what you are interested in.

Most importantly, you must make a convincing case as to why your research would create valuable and useful knowledge.

Here you need to formulate your research questions clearly. You should have an answerable question that is clear and sufficiently well defined/focussed for you to do the research implied within an appropriate time frame.

In this section you need to clarify what theoretical resources you will be drawing on and why. You should demonstrate your knowledge of the research problem and your understanding of the theoretical and research issues related to your research question and their relevance and usefulness to your particular project. Give consideration to the larger issues within your chosen theoretical framework and how they will affect the research process. Give credit to those who have laid the groundwork for your research.

This section is very important as it informs the admissions committee how you plan to tackle your research problem. It is your work plan and describes the activities necessary for the completion of your project and should consist of a description of how you intend to go about the research. You could demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods and make the case that your approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address your research question. Explain about the data you will collect; how you will collect it and how your will analyse it. Explain what skills you will need and whether you have them or how you will acquire them.

You need to think about practical issues: if you are intending to undertake fieldwork, where and for how long? Consider questions of access, for instance, will organisations etc. where you intend to undertake fieldwork wish to give you access (physical, time, documents) to what you need?

Ethical considerations

You will need to give consideration to issues of power and confidentiality. You should read any appropriate ethical guidelines and ask yourself how/whether you project follows these. [All research students at Oxford University are required (before they commence fieldwork) to complete the Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC) checklist and obtain permission to undertake any fieldwork].

Time scales

It is important that you map out a reasonable schedule of your work so that you can monitor your own progress and manage your project effectively. Start with your intended finishing date and do not underestimate the amount of time that it takes to finalise your drafts into a finished product.

Dissemination

A key indicator of the work of much research is whether it is of publishable quality. You might like to give some consideration at this stage as to what sorts of things might be publishable and where you would like them to appear. This is especially important if you wish to pursue a career as an academic in a UK university.

When you have completed all of this then get other people, your peers as well as those more experienced than you, to read it and comment. This will help you to revise the proposal before you submit it. You can also make contact with departmental staff whose research interests are in a similar area to those you intend to undertake. They would be happy to give you advice and to discuss possible supervision.

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Writing your research proposal

When you apply for a research degree at the University of Portsmouth, you may have to submit a research proposal that outlines, among many other things, the nature of your research, and why it's important. 

To help make yours as compelling as possible, read our helpful hints for creating a clear, concise and engaging research proposal.

Prospective supervisors will not be expecting you to have all the answers at this stage; if accepted onto a research degree, your ideas will develop throughout the course of your studies.

What should a research proposal contain?

Title and abstract.

  • Your title should be clear and easy-to-understand.
  • The abstract is a concise and engaging summary of your research question and approach (around 300 words). It should be written as a standalone piece so that any prospective supervisor can understand what you plan to do, and why, from the abstract alone.

Introduction, background and rationale

  • This section should provide a background to your research - what you want to investigate and why the research is important/needed.

Research aims, questions or hypothesis

  • You should clearly communicate the research question(s) you would seek to answer in your intended research proposal. Depending on your chosen subject area you may also wish to specify some aims, objectives and hypotheses. If you are not sure whether this is necessary, discuss this with your potential supervisor.

Literature review

  • In this section you will need to demonstrate your understanding of the key literature that relates to your research question(s), and outline your critical understanding of what previous research has found. You may also have identified any gaps in the current knowledge related to your area of research, and you can highlight these here.

Methodology

  • A rationale and description of the approach you would intend to take to answer your research question(s). You should discuss the general approach you would take to answering your research question(s) e.g. in a Social Science PhD, whether you’d take a qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods approach, as well as considering the more specific issues e.g. would you use interviews or focus groups.
  • Clearly outline any separate studies you expect to conduct and how they link or relate to each other. As a rule of thumb, most Science, Social Science and Engineering PhDs research proposals would be expected to contain 3-4 separate studies, each approximately equivalent to a Masters thesis project in size.
  • What ethical considerations do you anticipate within your research, and how might you approach these?

Dissemination and impact

  • Sharing the findings of your research is a fundamental part of being a researcher, and prospective supervisors will be interested to know how you anticipate disseminating your research findings.
  • A research degree can take between 3-6 years to complete, so a timeline of the key stages of your research should be included.

Referencing

  • Don't forget to include your references  

How long should my research proposal be? 

Most proposals are between 1,500-4,000 words, but the exact length will vary depending on which research area you're applying to join. 

Your potential supervisor can let you know any specific requirements for the area you’re applying to.

You are strongly encouraged to work with your potential supervisor to refine your proposal before you make a formal application. This way, you can make sure the project is a good fit with their interests and expertise.

Do your homework - make sure your problem hasn't already been solved.

Engage the reader - you don't want the reader to switch off!

Be realistic - especially about timescales and accessing data

Take your time - it's important not to rush writing your research proposal 

Seek feedback - it's always a good idea to get others to read your research proposal

Prepare to be flexible, your project can evolve or change

Two students working together from the same book in Eldon seating area

Important do’s and don’ts

  • Write your research proposal in your own words.
  • Acknowledge any sources you used for information or ideas presented in your research proposal.
  • Make sure the research proposal you are about to submit looks fantastic - f irst impressions count!

Don’t: 

  • Copy and paste text directly from sources such as journal articles without acknowledging them in the text. Some universities use plagiarism checking software on the research proposals submitted to them.
  • Use AI or similar tools to produce your finished proposal.
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Postgraduate Research Proposal Guide

Learn more about research proposals and the process involved in creating the perfect application. 

Follow our step by step guide

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Academic Proposals

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This resource introduces the genre of academic proposals and provides strategies for developing effective graduate-level proposals across multiple contexts.

Introduction

An important part of the work completed in academia is sharing our scholarship with others. Such communication takes place when we present at scholarly conferences, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and publish in books. This OWL resource addresses the steps in writing for a variety of academic proposals.

For samples of academic proposals, click here .

Important considerations for the writing process

First and foremost, you need to consider your future audience carefully in order to determine both how specific your topic can be and how much background information you need to provide in your proposal. While some conferences and journals may be subject-specific, most will require you to address an audience that does not conduct research on the same topics as you. Conference proposal reviewers are often drawn from professional organization members or other attendees, while journal proposals are typically reviewed by the editorial staff, so you need to ensure that your proposal is geared toward the knowledge base and expectations of whichever audience will read your work.

Along those lines, you might want to check whether you are basing your research on specific prior research and terminology that requires further explanation. As a rule, always phrase your proposal clearly and specifically, avoid over-the-top phrasing and jargon, but do not negate your own personal writing style in the process.

If you would like to add a quotation to your proposal, you are not required to provide a citation or footnote of the source, although it is generally preferred to mention the author’s name. Always put quotes in quotation marks and take care to limit yourself to at most one or two quotations in the entire proposal text. Furthermore, you should always proofread your proposal carefully and check whether you have integrated details, such as author’s name, the correct number of words, year of publication, etc. correctly.

Methodology is often a key factor in the evaluation of proposals for any academic genre — but most proposals have such a small word limit that writers find it difficult to adequately include methods while also discussing their argument, background for the study, results, and contributions to knowledge. It's important to make sure that you include some information about the methods used in your study, even if it's just a line or two; if your proposal isn't experimental in nature, this space should instead describe the theory, lens, or approach you are taking to arrive at your conclusions.

Reasons proposals fail/common pitfalls

There are common pitfalls that you might need to improve on for future proposals.

The proposal does not reflect your enthusiasm and persuasiveness, which usually goes hand in hand with hastily written, simply worded proposals. Generally, the better your research has been, the more familiar you are with the subject and the more smoothly your proposal will come together.

Similarly, proposing a topic that is too broad can harm your chances of being accepted to a conference. Be sure to have a clear focus in your proposal. Usually, this can be avoided by more advanced research to determine what has already been done, especially if the proposal is judged by an important scholar in the field. Check the names of keynote speakers and other attendees of note to avoid repeating known information or not focusing your proposal.

Your paper might simply have lacked the clear language that proposals should contain. On this linguistic level, your proposal might have sounded repetitious, have had boring wording, or simply displayed carelessness and a lack of proofreading, all of which can be remedied by more revisions. One key tactic for ensuring you have clear language in your proposal is signposting — you can pick up key phrases from the CFP, as well as use language that indicates different sections in academic work (as in IMRAD sections from the organization and structure page in this resource). This way, reviewers can easily follow your proposal and identify its relatedness to work in the field and the CFP.

Conference proposals

Conference proposals are a common genre in graduate school that invite several considerations for writing depending on the conference and requirements of the call for papers.

Beginning the process

Make sure you read the call for papers carefully to consider the deadline and orient your topic of presentation around the buzzwords and themes listed in the document. You should take special note of the deadline and submit prior to that date, as most conferences use online submission systems that will close on a deadline and will not accept further submissions.

If you have previously spoken on or submitted a proposal on the same topic, you should carefully adjust it specifically for this conference or even completely rewrite the proposal based on your changing and evolving research.

The topic you are proposing should be one that you can cover easily within a time frame of approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. You should stick to the required word limit of the conference call. The organizers have to read a large number of proposals, especially in the case of an international or interdisciplinary conference, and will appreciate your brevity.

Structure and components

Conference proposals differ widely across fields and even among individual conferences in a field. Some just request an abstract, which is written similarly to any other abstract you'd write for a journal article or other publication. Some may request abstracts or full papers that fit into pre-existing sessions created by conference organizers. Some request both an abstract and a further description or proposal, usually in cases where the abstract will be published in the conference program and the proposal helps organizers decide which papers they will accept. 

If the conference you are submitting to requires a proposal or description, there are some common elements you'll usually need to include. These are a statement of the problem or topic, a discussion of your approach to the problem/topic, a discussion of findings or expected findings, and a discussion of key takeaways or relevance to audience members. These elements are typically given in this order and loosely follow the IMRAD structure discussed in the organization and structure page in this resource. 

The proportional size of each of these elements in relation to one another tends to vary by the stage of your research and the relationship of your topic to the field of the conference. If your research is very early on, you may spend almost no time on findings, because you don't have them yet. Similarly, if your topic is a regular feature at conferences in your field, you may not need to spend as much time introducing it or explaining its relevance to the field; however, if you are working on a newer topic or bringing in a topic or problem from another discipline, you may need to spend slightly more space explaining it to reviewers. These decisions should usually be based on an analysis of your audience — what information can reviewers be reasonably expected to know, and what will you have to tell them?

Journal Proposals

Most of the time, when you submit an article to a journal for publication, you'll submit a finished manuscript which contains an abstract, the text of the article, the bibliography, any appendices, and author bios. These can be on any topic that relates to the journal's scope of interest, and they are accepted year-round.

Special issues , however, are planned issues of a journal that center around a specific theme, usually a "hot topic" in the field. The editor or guest editors for the special issue will often solicit proposals with a call for papers (CFP) first, accept a certain number of proposals for further development into article manuscripts, and then accept the final articles for the special issue from that smaller pool. Special issues are typically the only time when you will need to submit a proposal to write a journal article, rather than submitting a completed manuscript.

Journal proposals share many qualities with conference proposals: you need to write for your audience, convey the significance of your work, and condense the various sections of a full study into a small word or page limit. In general, the necessary components of a proposal include:

  • Problem or topic statement that defines the subject of your work (often includes research questions)
  • Background information (think literature review) that indicates the topic's importance in your field as well as indicates that your research adds something to the scholarship on this topic
  • Methodology and methods used in the study (and an indication of why these methods are the correct ones for your research questions)
  • Results or findings (which can be tentative or preliminary, if the study has not yet been completed)
  • Significance and implications of the study (what will readers learn? why should they care?)

This order is a common one because it loosely follows the IMRAD (introduction, methods, results and discussion) structure often used in academic writing; however, it is not the only possible structure or even always the best structure. You may need to move these elements around depending on the expectations in your field, the word or page limit, or the instructions given in the CFP.

Some of the unique considerations of journal proposals are:

  • The CFP may ask you for an abstract, a proposal, or both. If you need to write an abstract, look for more information on the abstract page. If you need to write both an abstract and a proposal, make sure to clarify for yourself what the difference is. Usually the proposal needs to include more information about the significance, methods, and/or background of the study than will fit in the abstract, but often the CFP itself will give you some instructions as to what information the editors are wanting in each piece of writing.
  • Journal special issue CFPs, like conference CFPs, often include a list of topics or questions that describe the scope of the special issue. These questions or topics are a good starting place for generating a proposal or tying in your research; ensuring that your work is a good fit for the special issue and articulating why that is in the proposal increases your chances of being accepted.
  • Special issues are not less valuable or important than regularly scheduled issues; therefore, your proposal needs to show that your work fits and could readily be accepted in any other issue of the journal. This means following some of the same practices you would if you were preparing to submit a manuscript to a journal: reading the journal's author submission guidelines; reading the last several years of the journal to understand the usual topics, organization, and methods; citing pieces from this journal and other closely related journals in your research.

Book Proposals

While the requirements are very similar to those of conference proposals, proposals for a book ought to address a few other issues.

General considerations

Since these proposals are of greater length, the publisher will require you to delve into greater detail as well—for instance, regarding the organization of the proposed book or article.

Publishers generally require a clear outline of the chapters you are proposing and an explication of their content, which can be several pages long in its entirety.

You will need to incorporate knowledge of relevant literature, use headings and sub-headings that you should not use in conference proposals. Be sure to know who wrote what about your topic and area of interest, even if you are proposing a less scholarly project.

Publishers prefer depth rather than width when it comes to your topic, so you should be as focused as possible and further outline your intended audience.

You should always include information regarding your proposed deadlines for the project and how you will execute this plan, especially in the sciences. Potential investors or publishers need to know that you have a clear and efficient plan to accomplish your proposed goals. Depending on the subject area, this information can also include a proposed budget, materials or machines required to execute this project, and information about its industrial application.

Pre-writing strategies

As John Boswell (cited in: Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal. Writers Digest Books , 2004. p. 1) explains, “today fully 90 percent of all nonfiction books sold to trade publishers are acquired on the basis of a proposal alone.” Therefore, editors and agents generally do not accept completed manuscripts for publication, as these “cannot (be) put into the usual channels for making a sale”, since they “lack answers to questions of marketing, competition, and production.” (Lyon, Elizabeth. Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write . Perigee Trade, 2002. pp. 6-7.)

In contrast to conference or, to a lesser degree, chapter proposals, a book proposal introduces your qualifications for writing it and compares your work to what others have done or failed to address in the past.

As a result, you should test the idea with your networks and, if possible, acquire other people’s proposals that discuss similar issues or have a similar format before submitting your proposal. Prior to your submission, it is recommended that you write at least part of the manuscript in addition to checking the competition and reading all about the topic.

The following is a list of questions to ask yourself before committing to a book project, but should in no way deter you from taking on a challenging project (adapted from Lyon 27). Depending on your field of study, some of these might be more relevant to you than others, but nonetheless useful to reiterate and pose to yourself.

  • Do you have sufficient enthusiasm for a project that may span years?
  • Will publication of your book satisfy your long-term career goals?
  • Do you have enough material for such a long project and do you have the background knowledge and qualifications required for it?
  • Is your book idea better than or different from other books on the subject? Does the idea spark enthusiasm not just in yourself but others in your field, friends, or prospective readers?
  • Are you willing to acquire any lacking skills, such as, writing style, specific terminology and knowledge on that field for this project? Will it fit into your career and life at the time or will you not have the time to engage in such extensive research?

Essential elements of a book proposal

Your book proposal should include the following elements:

  • Your proposal requires the consideration of the timing and potential for sale as well as its potential for subsidiary rights.
  • It needs to include an outline of approximately one paragraph to one page of prose (Larsen 6) as well as one sample chapter to showcase the style and quality of your writing.
  • You should also include the resources you need for the completion of the book and a biographical statement (“About the Author”).
  • Your proposal must contain your credentials and expertise, preferably from previous publications on similar issues.
  • A book proposal also provides you with the opportunity to include information such as a mission statement, a foreword by another authority, or special features—for instance, humor, anecdotes, illustrations, sidebars, etc.
  • You must assess your ability to promote the book and know the market that you target in all its statistics.

The following proposal structure, as outlined by Peter E. Dunn for thesis and fellowship proposals, provides a useful guide to composing such a long proposal (Dunn, Peter E. “Proposal Writing.” Center for Instructional Excellence, Purdue University, 2007):

  • Literature Review
  • Identification of Problem
  • Statement of Objectives
  • Rationale and Significance
  • Methods and Timeline
  • Literature Cited

Most proposals for manuscripts range from thirty to fifty pages and, apart from the subject hook, book information (length, title, selling handle), markets for your book, and the section about the author, all the other sections are optional. Always anticipate and answer as many questions by editors as possible, however.

Finally, include the best chapter possible to represent your book's focus and style. Until an agent or editor advises you to do otherwise, follow your book proposal exactly without including something that you might not want to be part of the book or improvise on possible expected recommendations.

Publishers expect to acquire the book's primary rights, so that they can sell it in an adapted or condensed form as well. Mentioning any subsidiary rights, such as translation opportunities, performance and merchandising rights, or first-serial rights, will add to the editor's interest in buying your book. It is enticing to publishers to mention your manuscript's potential to turn into a series of books, although they might still hesitate to buy it right away—at least until the first one has been a successful endeavor.

The sample chapter

Since editors generally expect to see about one-tenth of a book, your sample chapter's length should reflect that in these building blocks of your book. The chapter should reflect your excitement and the freshness of the idea as well as surprise editors, but do not submit part of one or more chapters. Always send a chapter unless your credentials are impeccable due to prior publications on the subject. Do not repeat information in the sample chapter that will be covered by preceding or following ones, as the outline should be designed in such a way as to enable editors to understand the context already.

How to make your proposal stand out

Depending on the subject of your book, it is advisable to include illustrations that exemplify your vision of the book and can be included in the sample chapter. While these can make the book more expensive, it also increases the salability of the project. Further, you might consider including outstanding samples of your published work, such as clips from periodicals, if they are well-respected in the field. Thirdly, cover art can give your potential publisher a feel for your book and its marketability, especially if your topic is creative or related to the arts.

In addition, professionally formatting your materials will give you an edge over sloppy proposals. Proofread the materials carefully, use consistent and carefully organized fonts, spacing, etc., and submit your proposal without staples; rather, submit it in a neat portfolio that allows easy access and reassembling. However, check the submission guidelines first, as most proposals are submitted digitally. Finally, you should try to surprise editors and attract their attention. Your hook, however, should be imaginative but inexpensive (you do not want to bribe them, after all). Make sure your hook draws the editors to your book proposal immediately (Adapted from Larsen 154-60).

How to write your research proposal

A key part of your application is your research proposal. Whether you are applying for a self-funded or studentship you should follow the guidance below.

If you are looking specifically for advice on writing your PhD by published work research proposal, read our guide .

You are encouraged to contact us to discuss the availability of supervision in your area of research before you make a formal application, by  visiting our areas of research .

What is your research proposal used for and why is it important?

  • It is used to establish whether there is expertise to support your proposed area of research
  • It forms part of the assessment of your application
  • The research proposal you submit as part of your application is just the starting point, as your ideas evolve your proposed research is likely to change

How long should my research proposal be?

It should be 2,000–3,500 words (4-7 pages) long.

What should be included in my research proposal?

Your proposal should include the following:

  • your title should give a clear indication of your proposed research approach or key question

2. BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE

You should include:

  • the background and issues of your proposed research
  • identify your discipline
  • a short literature review
  • a summary of key debates and developments in the field

3. RESEARCH QUESTION(S)

You should formulate these clearly, giving an explanation as to what problems and issues are to be explored and why they are worth exploring

4. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

You should provide an outline of:

  • the theoretical resources to be drawn on
  • the research approach (theoretical framework)
  • the research methods appropriate for the proposed research
  • a discussion of advantages as well as limits of particular approaches and methods

5. PLAN OF WORK & TIME SCHEDULE

You should include an outline of the various stages and corresponding time lines for developing and implementing the research, including writing up your thesis.

For  full-time study  your research should be completed within three years, with writing up completed in the fourth year of registration.

For  part-time study  your research should be completed within six years, with writing up completed by the eighth year.

6. BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • a list of references to key articles and texts discussed within your research proposal
  • a selection of sources appropriate to the proposed research

Related pages

Fees and funding.

How much will it cost to study a research degree?

Research degrees

Find out if you can apply for a Research Degree at the University of Westminster.

Research degree by distance learning

Find out about Research Degree distance learning options at the University of Westminster.

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how long should a masters research proposal be

For comprehensive advice please download our How to write a research proposal guide.

What is a research proposal

Your research proposal needs to outline the nature of your proposed research project and give some indication of how you will conduct your research.  It is an integral part of the postgraduate research application process, so it is certainly worth investing time and energy into it.

Your research proposal should leave a positive first impression upon the reader about your ‘fitness’ to study a PhD. It is your project, so it is important to demonstrate leadership in this first stage of the application process. An ideal proposal should leave the reader feeling in no doubt that you have done some preliminary research about your subject and that you are knowledgeable and ready to tackle the challenges of a PhD. Give your proposal your utmost attention and time, but also be realistic ‐ you are not expected to know everything at this stage. Your proposal can also be flexible. It is not a contract. Always ask someone else to read your proposal before you submit it, and to offer you some critical but supportive feedback. Remember that a research proposal is about what you want to study; it immediately reflects your initial understanding of, and commitment to, PhD study. A research proposal can and should make a positive and powerful first impression about your potential to become a good researcher.  Importantly, the main purpose is to enable the university to assess whether you are a good ‘match’ for our supervisors and our areas of research expertise. Therefore, in a good research proposal you will need to demonstrate two main things:

  •     that you are capable of  independent critical thinking and analysis
  •     that you are capable of  communicating your ideas clearly

Applying for a PhD is like applying for a job, you are not applying for a taught programme.  When you start a PhD you will become a valued researcher in an academic department. Through your research proposal your colleagues want to know whether they can work with you, and whether your ideas are focussed, interesting and realistic. Try and impress them! Your proposal should be indicative and it should outline your areas of interest and your general insight into the research topic. You are not expected to be an expert and to be familiar with all the specific details of your subject. However, you are expected to have a good level of knowledge about the subject and where you might make a valuable contribution to research. The perfect research proposal should leave the reader interested, excited and wanting to find out more about your ideas, and about you!

Preparing a research proposal

Before you write a research proposal, the first step should be to provide a 500-word outline of your proposed research project. You should then forward this to any academic you feel would best suit your proposed project – you can find contact details for staff on the individual subject websites. If you receive a positive response, you can then plan to submit a formal application in the form of a research proposal.

Your proposal must specify the area of your proposed research and should cover relevance, theoretical perspectives, research methodology, and sources of data.  Your proposal is your calling card. It is your chance to sell yourself and your research to prospective supervisors. Competition for places is fierce, and many students apply to us with excellent Bachelors and Masters degrees from around the world. Your proposal is your way of setting yourself apart from the crowd. So, you should work hard to submit the best possible application.

Putting together your document

There is no set formula for your research proposal in terms of length or what you include in it. It is quality, not quantity, that counts to demonstrate that you have a clear and concise way of thinking. Your proposal should explain your project, establish its importance, and set out how you are going to complete it in the time allowed.

PhD-level study, quite literally, encompasses an almost infinite variety of topics and projects.  It is for this reason that prescribing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ method for research proposal writing is a difficult task, but the strongest proposals are likely to contain many of the following:

Background  – You should establish the context to, and rationale for, your research based on a reading of the relevant academic and/or practitioner literature. Where possible, cite relevant authors and studies, and explain how this research builds on your previous academic work or professional experience. You should discuss the intellectual importance of your work, its contribution to your subject area, and its originality, which, in time, form three of the four main criteria for assessing your PhD.

Aims and objectives  – Set out the central aims and research questions that guide your research. What hypothesis or argument are you trying to explore and what questions are you trying to answer? Set out your terms of reference clearly and precisely. These may cover what you intend to achieve by the research in general and, more specifically, how the research fits the background and the outcomes from the project. 

Methods and techniques  – Explain how your approach to collecting and analysing information will help you satisfy your aims and objectives. Potential data collection methods and possible analytical techniques give a sense of the direction of the research. Explain the choices behind case study organisations or locations, as well as sampling strategies or particular computer-based techniques.

Rationale  - contextualise your questions/aims in a broader field of study, identifying the main literature that you are addressing. You need to explain why your research questions/hypotheses are important and topical.

Project management  – You don’t need to produce a detailed time plan because research projects evolve. However, it is extremely useful to explain in general terms what you are proposing to do, and when, in order to get a sense of the scale of the task. This is especially important if you are proposing to undertake case study work or fieldwork.

Ethics  – Almost inevitably your research will raise some ethical issues and you should aspire to conduct your research with the highest ethical standards.

Health and safety  – All types of research have implications for health and safety, albeit some types of work are more risky than others. Where appropriate your proposal should seek to identify any issues and explain how you may address them.

References  – Please enter a reference list using Harvard Notation. It is useful for potential supervisors to better understand the breadth and depth of your reading to date.

Appendices  – These are a useful way of including additional supporting material while keeping the main body of the proposal succinct.

Timeline  – You don’t need to produce a detailed time plan, but it is helpful to provide a summary of what you are planning to do and when. You will be expected to submit your thesis within three years (six years for part-time students) so it is important you have a feasible timeline. This section is especially important if you are proposing to undertake case study work or fieldwork. Bibliography  – a short bibliography of relevant works in your research area.

Guidelines and advice

How long should a good research proposal be?

A good research proposal is as long as it takes, but a guide would be 1,500-2,500 words. Remember that it is meant to be an accurate overview, not a thesis, so you need to provide enough detail for the reader to understand it.  A paragraph would not be enough and 5,000 words likely too much.

The '3Cs' rule

When you have written your research proposal, ask a friend to read it critically and provide you with feedback. Also, ask yourself whether it follows the '3Cs' rule:

  • Clear  - is what you have written intelligible and clearly articulated?  Does it make sense, or is it vague and confusing?  Does your proposal leave the reader with a clear sense of the purpose and direction of your research project?
  • Concise  -  have you written your proposal in a succinct and focused way?
  • Coherent  -  does your proposal link together well so that it tells the reader a short story about what you want to do, why you want to do it and how you will do it?

If you can answer all of these questions with confidence, you have probably put together a good proposal.

Dissemination

Depending on your project and the wider field it is a part of, you may want to include a paragraph on how you would go about spreading the ideas discussed in your research to the academic community, and in some cases the organisation arranging your funding. This could be anything, from traditional sources such as publications and seminars, to more contemporary methods such as blogs, vlogs and exhibitions.

To protect yourself from accusations of plagiarism please make sure that all your references are present, correct and up-to-date at the time of submission.  In order to ensure you have correctly referenced, it is sensible to include publications in your bibliography that influenced your thoughts and arguments in any way, even if they are not quoted from directly.  If you have used quotations from other academics, please check you have used quotation marks and a citation.

6 steps to a successful research proposal

A good research proposal should not be complicated. However, it can be challenging to write and it is important to get right. A PhD is challenging, so it is good training working on your research proposal. Although there is no exact prescribed format for a general research proposal (across all subjects), a research proposal should generally include six main sections, as detailed below:

1:  A clear working title for your research project

  • What will you call your project?
  • What key words would describe your proposal?

2:  A clear statement about what you want to work on and why it is important, interesting, relevant and realistic

  • What are your main research objectives? These could be articulated as hypotheses, propositions, research questions, or problems to solve
  • What difference do you think your research will make?
  • Why does this research excite you?
  • What research ‘gaps’ will you be filling by undertaking your project?
  • How might your research ‘add value’ to the subject?
  • Is your research achievable in the time allocated? (e.g. 3 years full‐time)

3:  Some background knowledge and context of the area in which you wish to work, including key literature, key people, key research findings

  • How does your work link to the work of others in the same field or related fields?
  • Would your work support or contest the work of others?
  • How does your work relate to the expertise within the department you are applying to?

4:  Some consideration of the methods/approach you might use

  • How will you conduct your research?
  • Will you use existing theories, new methods/approaches or develop new methods/approaches?
  • How might you design your project to get the best results/findings?

5:  Some indication of the strategy and timetable for your research project and any research challenges you may face

  • What would be the main stages of your project?
  • What would you be expecting to do in each year of your PhD?
  • What challenges might you encounter and how might your overcome these?

6:  A list of the key references which support your research proposal

  • References should be listed in the appropriate convention for your subject area (e.g. Harvard). Such references should be used throughout your research proposal to demonstrate that you have read and understood the work of others
  • Other relevant material that you are aware of, but not actually used in writing your proposal, can also be added as a bibliography

All of the above six sections are important but section 2 is particularly important because in any research project, establishing your main purpose represents the whole basis for completing the research programme. Therefore, the value of your proposed research is assessed in relation to your research aims and objectives.

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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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how long should a masters research proposal be

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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how long should a masters research proposal be

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  • Research Proposal Guidelines

Students who wish to apply for the MPhil and PhD programmes are required to submit a research proposal. Please follow the Communication Management Division guidelines provided below:

DIVISION OF COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT GUIDELINES: RESEARCH PROPOSAL 

1. TITLE OF PROPOSED ARTICLE

The title (or working title) should preferably not be more than 15 words.  It is possible, however, that the title can change or be adapted during the course of the study.  A title should include the following two aspects: What (exactly) will be researched, specifying the relevant concepts that will be investigated; and the context/domain.

2. PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH PROPOSAL

The research proposal is the work plan, outline, statement of intent or draft plan describing what, why, how, where , and when the research will be done.  A well-planned and adequate research proposal is essentially a road map, showing where the journey begins; the destination to be reached; and the method of getting there.

3. REQUIREMENTS FOR THE PROPOSAL

The research proposal should comply with the following: It should be a well-structured, easy to read document containing only the relevant information for the proposed study.  Literature references that substantiate the rationale or need for the research should also be included. (See 4.3 Literature Review.)  The research proposal should follow a logical sequence indicating the process as to how the research problem/question will be addressed.

4. STRUCTURE OF THE RESEARCH PROPOSAL

4.1 Problem statement

The problem statement must be clear and the use of unnecessary idioms or clichés should be avoided.  The background to the problem (i.e. the problem or phenomenon in practice, that is the management problem); sub-problems (if any); the consequences thereof; the necessity to solve the problem or improve the status quo; how the study or research can contribute to solve the problem; and the contribution towards the expansion of scientific knowledge, are aspects that should be discussed in this section.

4.2 Research questions, objectives and hypotheses

The purpose of the research must be stated clearly in the form of research questions, objectives and/or hypotheses, depending on the problem or phenomenon that is investigated.

4.3 Literature review

The literature review forms an integral part of the draft / final research proposals as well as of your final research script.  The literature review examines, summarises and critically debates recent (and historically important) research studies and other information sources that are relevant to a proposed study.

A literature review should always address the following issues:

  • Conceptual and operational definitions of all the key concepts/constructs which are relevant to the proposed study.
  • A focussed summary of relevant previous research involving the concepts/constructs which are relevant to the proposed study.  Previous research may indicate:
  • Possible relationships between the chosen constructs (e.g. a correlation between communication satisfaction and job satisfaction)
  • Possible differences between groups on the chosen constructs (e.g. differences between males and females with regard to sensation seeking)
  • The context in which the constructs have previously been tested (e.g. among MBA students or in a specific industry)
  • The results of previous hypothesis tests involving the selected constructs/concepts
  • Possible untested hypotheses/propositions involving the constructs
  • Different approaches to the measurement of the constructs.
  • Many of the theoretical concepts/constructs in Communication Management are abstract, complex and multi-dimensional.  Think of concepts/constructs such as perceived value, perceived service quality, brand loyalty, brand image, perceived risk, variety seeking tendency, corporate reputation, corporate social responsibility, communication satisfaction, and two-way symmetric communication style.  To measure these concepts/constructs, one has to use reliable and valid measurement scales.  A literature review must always provide a summary of existing approaches to the measurement of the relevant concepts/constructs.  (Note that there may be different schools of thought when it comes to defining and measuring a specific concept/construct.  Your literature review should always summarise the points of view of different schools of thought where applicable.)
  • Finally, a literature review must provide sufficient theoretical support for the hypotheses to be tested or questions to be answered in a research project.

4.4 Importance, value or benefits of the study

Describe explicit benefits that will accrue from your study.  The importance of “doing it now” should be emphasised.  Indicate the benefits, uses, and value of the research and its contribution to solve communication problems.  Also indicate how future research on the topic could benefit from this study.  This section should convince the reader that the study would contribute towards the scientific evolution of communication theory and its practical application.

4.5 Research design

The research design describes what the researcher intends doing in technical terms.  The study may be viewed as exploratory or formal.  An exploratory study develops propositions, hypotheses or research questions; the goal of formal studies is to test the hypotheses or answer the research questions. 

The following descriptors are suggested:

  • Identify information types and sources (secondary and primary data).
  • Determine methods of accessing data (observational or communication mode study; qualitative or quantitative research, data collection methods, e.g. focus groups and in-depth interviews vs survey data collection methods).
  • Describe sample selection and size (probability vs non-probability sampling methods).
  • Indicate the method and time of data collection (done by researcher/trained interviewers; cross-sectional studies vs longitudinal studies). 
  • Give a brief description of the methods used in analysing data (Involves descriptive statistics, tabulation, cross-tabulation and statistical tests.  Were applicable, also refer to software that will be used to analyse the data.)

4.6 Scheduling

Include a time frame or schedule for the proposed study.

4.7 List of sources

Supply a list of the sources used to compile the proposal.

4.8 The length

The length of the research proposal should be about 15 – 20 typed pages.  The typeface should be Arial and the line spacing should be 1.5.

SELF-ASSESSMENT TABLE FOR RESEARCH PROPOSAL

The following table can be used as a guideline for assessment of the Research Proposal:

1 = Poor               2 = Inadequate                 3 = Fair                  4 = Good              5 = Outstanding

1  Suitability of title

 

 

 

 

 

2  Significance of introduction

 

 

 

 

 

3  Problem statement, aim, objectives, research questions

 

 

 

 

 

4  Explanation of research design

 

 

 

 

 

5  Outline of final report (intended structure)

 

 

 

 

 

6  Scientific approach

 

 

 

 

 

7  Formulation and logic of reasoning

 

 

 

 

 

8  Technical aspects

 

 

 

 

 

9  Reference technique

 

 

 

 

 

10  Bibliography 

 

 

 

 

 

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how long should a masters research proposal be

How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy in 9 Easy Steps [Free Template]

Creating your social media marketing strategy doesn’t need to be painful. Create an effective plan for your business in 9 simple steps.

How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy in 9 Easy Steps (Free Template) | Hootsuite

A social media marketing strategy is a summary of everything you plan to do and hope to achieve on social media. It guides your actions and lets you know whether you’re succeeding or failing.

The more specific your plan is, the more effective it will be. Keep it concise. Don’t make it so lofty and broad that it’s unattainable or impossible to measure.

In this post, we’ll walk you through a nine-step plan to create a winning social media strategy of your own. We’ve even got expert insights from Amanda Wood, Hootsuite’s Senior Manager of Social Marketing.

How to create a social media strategy:

Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template   to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.

What is a social media marketing strategy?

A social media strategy is a document outlining your social media goals, the tactics you will use to achieve them and the metrics you will track to measure your progress.

Your social media marketing strategy should also list all of your existing and planned social media accounts along with goals specific to each platform you’re active on. These goals should align with your business’s larger digital marketing strategy.

Finally, a good social media plan should define the roles and responsibilities within your team and outline your reporting cadence.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Create. Schedule. Publish. Engage. Measure. Win.

Creating your own social media marketing strategy (video guide)

No time to read the whole article? Let Amanda, Hootsuite’s own Senior Manager of Social Media Marketing, guide you through our free social media marketing strategy template in less than 10 minutes:

How to create a social media marketing strategy in 9 steps

Step 1. choose goals that align to business objectives, set s.m.a.r.t. goals.

The first step to creating a winning social media strategy is to establish clear objectives and goals. Without goals, you have no way to measure success and return on investment (ROI) .

Each of your social media marketing goals should be SMART : s pecific, m easurable, a ttainable, r elevant and t ime-bound.

Psst: Need help getting started? We’ve got social strategy guides for small businesses , financial services , government , higher education , healthcare , real estate , law firms , and non-profits .

Oh, and if you need examples of smart social media goals , we’ve got you covered there too.

track your social media goals in a social media strategy doc, like this one.

Once you’ve decided on your goals, track them in a social media strategy doc — grab our free template if you don’t have one already.

Track meaningful metrics

Vanity metrics like number of followers and likes are easy to track, but it’s hard to prove their real value. Instead, focus on things like engagement, click-through, and conversion rates.

For inspiration, take a look at these 19 essential social media metrics .

You may want to track different goals for different social media networks, or even different uses for each network.

For example, if you use LinkedIn to drive traffic to your website, you would measure click-throughs. If Instagram is for brand awareness, you might track the number of Instagram Story views. And if you advertise on Facebook, cost-per-click (CPC) is a common success metric.

Social media goals should align with your overall marketing objectives. This makes it easier to show the value of your work and secure buy-in from your boss.

Screenshot of chart showing how social media goals should align to business objectives for an effective social media marketing strategy.

Start developing a successful social media marketing plan by writing down at least three goals for social media.

“ It’s easy to get overwhelmed by deciding what to post and which metrics to track, but you need to focus on what you want to get out of social media to begin with,” says Amanda Wood, Hootsuite’s Senior Manager of Social Marketing. “Don’t just start posting and tracking everything: match your goals to your business, and your metrics to your goals.”

Step 2. Learn everything you can about your audience

Get to know your fans, followers, and customers as real people with real wants and needs, and you will know how to target and engage them on social media.

When it comes to your ideal customer, you should know things like:

  • Average income
  • Typical job title or industry

Here’s a simple guide and template for creating audience/buyer personas .

Document important information about your target customers in your social media strategy doc

Don’t forget to document this information in your strategy doc!

Social media analytics can also provide a ton of valuable information about who your followers are, where they live, and how they interact with your brand on social media. These insights allow you to refine your strategy and better target your audience.

Jugnoo, an Uber-like service for auto-rickshaws in India, used Facebook Analytics to learn that 90% of their users who referred other customers were between 18- and 34-years-old, and 65% of that group was using Android. They used that information to target their ads, resulting in a 40% lower cost per referral.

Check out our guide to using social media analytics and the tools you need to track them .

Step 3. Get to know your competition

Odds are your competitors are already using social media, and that means you can learn from what they’re doing.

Conduct a competitive analysis

A competitive analysis allows you to understand who the competition is and what they’re doing well (and not so well). You’ll get a good sense of what’s expected in your industry, which will help you set social media targets of your own.

It will also help you spot opportunities and weaknesses you can document in your social strategy doc.

track essential information about your competitors in your social strategy doc

Maybe one of your competitors is dominant on Facebook, for example, but has put little effort into X (Twitter) or Instagram. You might want to focus on the social media platforms where your audience is underserved, rather than trying to win fans away from a dominant player.

Use social media listening

Social listening is another way to keep an eye on your competitors.

Do searches of the competition’s company name, account handles, and other relevant keywords on social media. Find out what they’re sharing and what other people are saying about them. If they’re using influencer marketing, how much engagement do those campaigns earn them?

Pro tip : Use Hootsuite Streams to monitor relevant keywords, hashtags and accounts in real-time.

Try Hootsuite for free. You can cancel anytime.

As you track, you may notice shifts in how your competitors and industry leaders are using social media. You may come across new, exciting trends. You might even spot specific social content or a campaign that really hits the mark—or totally bombs.

Use this kind of intel to optimize and inform your own social media marketing strategy.

Just don’t go overboard on the spy tactics, Amanda advises. “ Make sure you aren’t ALWAYS comparing yourself to the competition — it can be a distraction. I’d say checking in on a monthly basis is healthy. Otherwise, focus on your own strategy and results.”

Step 4. Do a social media audit

If you’re already using social media, take stock of your efforts so far. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s working, and what’s not?
  • Who is engaging with you?
  • What are your most valuable partnerships?
  • Which networks does your target audience use?
  • How does your social media presence compare to the competition?

Once you collect that information, you’ll be ready to start thinking about ways to improve.

We’ve created an easy-to-follow social media audit guide and template to walk you through each step of this process.

Screenshot of a social media audit spreadsheet for building an effective social media marketing strategy

Your audit should give you a clear picture of what purpose each of your social accounts serves. If the purpose of an account isn’t clear, think about whether it’s worth keeping.

To help you decide, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my audience here?
  • If so, how are they using this platform?
  • Can I use this account to help achieve my goals?

Asking these tough questions will keep your social media strategy focused.

Look for impostor accounts

During the audit, you may discover fake accounts using your business name or the names of your products.

These imposters can be harmful to your brand—never mind that they’re capturing followers that should be yours.

You may want to get your accounts verified too to ensure your fans know they are dealing with the real you.

Here’s how to get verified on:

  • X (Twitter)

Step 5. Set up accounts and improve profiles

Decide which networks to use.

As you decide which social networks to use, you will also need to define your strategy for each.

Benefit Cosmetics’ social media manager, Angela Purcaro, told eMarketer : “For our makeup tutorials … we’re all about Snapchat and Instagram Stories. [X], on the other hand, is designated for customer service.”

Hootsuite’s own social team even designates different purposes for formats within networks. On Instagram, for example, they use the feed to post high-quality educational infographics and product announcements and Stories to cover live events or quick social media updates.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Hootsuite 🦉 (@hootsuite)

Pro tip : Write out a mission statement for each network. A one-sentence declaration to keep you focused on a specific goal.

Example: “We will use X for customer support to keep email and call volumes down.”

Or: “We will use LinkedIn for promoting and sharing our company culture to help with recruitment and employee advocacy.”

One more: “We will use Instagram to highlight new products and repost quality content from influencers.”

If you can’t create a solid mission statement for a particular social media channel, you may want to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Note : While larger businesses can and do tackle every platform, small businesses may not be able to — and that’s ok! Prioritize social platforms that will have the most impact on your business and make sure your marketing team has the resources to handle content for those networks. If you need help focusing your efforts, check out our 18-minute social media plan .

Set up your profiles

Once you’ve decided which networks to focus on, it’s time to create your profiles. Or improve existing ones so they align with your strategy.

  • Make sure you fill out all profile fields
  • Include keywords people would use to search for your business
  • Use consistent branding (logos, images, etc.) across networks so your profiles are easily recognizable

Pro tip : Use high-quality images that follow the recommended dimensions for each network. Check out our always-up-to-date social media image size cheat sheet for quick reference.

We’ve also got step-by-step guides for each network to walk you through the process:

  • Create a Facebook business page
  • Create an Instagram business account
  • Create a TikTok account
  • Create a X (Twitter) business account
  • Create a Snapchat account
  • Create a LinkedIn Company Page
  • Create a Pinterest business account
  • Create a YouTube channel

Don’t let this list overwhelm you. Remember, it’s better to use fewer channels well than to stretch yourself thin trying to maintain a presence on every network.

Optimize your profiles (and content) for search

Never heard of social SEO ? It’s time to learn.

44% of Gen Z consumers use social platforms to research their purchase decisions, which means it’s extra critical that your channels are optimized for social search.

That means making sure your profile names are clear and descriptive, you’re including relevant hashtags and keywords in your bio and on every post, and you’re using features like alt text and captions to include your target keywords as naturally as possible.

Step 6. Find inspiration

While it’s important that your brand be unique, you can still draw inspiration from other businesses that are great on social.

“ I consider it my job to stay active on social: to know what’s trending, which campaigns are winning, what’s new with the platforms, who’s going above and beyond,” says Amanda. “This might be the most fun step for you, or the hardest one, but it’s just as crucial as the rest of them.”

Social media success stories

You can usually find these on the business section of the social network’s website. ( Here’s Facebook’s , for example.)

Case studies can offer valuable insights that you can apply to your own social media plan.

Award-winning accounts and campaigns

You could also check out the winners of The Facebook Awards or The Shorty Awards for examples of brands that are at the top of their social media game.

For learning and a laugh, check out Fridge-Worthy, Hootsuite’s bi-weekly awards show highlighting brands doing smart and clever things on social media.

Your favorite brands on social media

Who do you enjoy following on social media? What do they do that compels people to engage and share their content?

National Geographic, for example, is one of the best on Instagram, combining stunning visuals with compelling captions.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo)

Then there’s Shopify. The ecommerce brand uses Facebook to sell themselves by showcasing customer stories and case studies.

And Lush Cosmetics is a great example of superior customer service on X. They use their 280 characters to answer questions and solve problems in an extremely charming and on-brand way.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Source: lushcosmetics on X

Notice that each of these accounts has a consistent voice, tone, and style. That’s key to letting people know what to expect from your feed. That is, why should they follow you? What’s in it for them?

Consistency also helps keep your content on-brand even if you have multiple people on your social media team.

For more on this, read our guide on establishing a compelling brand voice on social media .

Ask your followers

Consumers can also offer social media inspiration.

What are your target customers talking about online? What can you learn about their wants and needs?

If you have existing social channels, you could also ask your followers what they want from you. Just make sure that you follow through and deliver what they ask for.

Step 7. Create a social media content calendar

Sharing great content is essential, of course, but it’s equally important to have a plan in place for when you’ll share content to get the maximum impact.

Your social media content calendar also needs to account for the time you spend interacting with the audience (although you need to allow for some spontaneous engagement as well).

Set your posting schedule

Your social media content calendar lists the dates and times at which you will publish types of content on each channel. It’s the perfect place to plan all of your social media activities—from images, link sharing, and re-shares of user-generated content to blog posts and videos. It includes both your day-to-day posting and content for social media campaigns.

Your calendar also ensures your posts are spaced out appropriately and published at the best times to post .

Pro tip: You can plan your whole content calendar and get recommended best times to post on every network based on your past engagement rate, impressions, or link click data in Hootsuite.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Hootsuite’s Best Time to Publish feature

Determine the right content mix

Make sure your content strategy and calendar reflect the mission statement you’ve assigned to each social profile, so that everything you post is working to support your business goals.

(We know, it’s tempting to jump on every meme, but there should always be a strategy behind your social media marketing efforts!)

You might decide that:

  • 50% of content will drive traffic back to your website
  • 25% of content will be curated from other sources
  • 20% of content will support lead-generation goals (newsletter sign-ups, ebook downloads, etc.)
  • 5% of content will be about your company culture

Placing these different post types in your content calendar will ensure you maintain the right mix.

If you’re starting from scratch and you’re not sure what types of content to post, try the 80-20 rule :

  • 80% of your posts should inform, educate, or entertain your audience
  • 20% can directly promote your brand.

The 80-20 rule of social media publishing

You could also try the social media content marketing rule of thirds :

  • One-third of your content promotes your business, converts readers, and generates profit.
  • One-third of your content shares ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry or like-minded businesses.
  • One-third of your content is personal interactions with your audience

The social media marketing rule of thirds

Whatever you decide on, be sure to document it in your strategy doc.

document your content pillars in your strategy doc

Don’t post too much or too little

If you’re starting a social media marketing strategy from scratch, you may not have figured out how often to post to each network for maximum engagement yet.

Post too frequently and you risk annoying your audience. But, if you post too little, you risk looking like you’re not worth following.

Start with these posting frequency recommendations:

  • Instagram (feed): 3-7 times per week
  • TikTok: 3-5 times per week
  • Facebook: 1-2 times per day
  • X (Twitter): 1-5 times per day
  • LinkedIn: 1-5 times per day

How often to publish on social media by each platform

Pro tip : Once you have your social media content calendar planned out, use a scheduling tool to prepare messages in advance rather than updating constantly throughout the day.

We might be biased, but we think Hootsuite is the best social media management tool. You can schedule social media posts to every network and the intuitive calendar view gives you a full picture of all your social activity each week.

Try It Free

Step 8. Create compelling content

Remember those mission statements you created for each channel in Step 5? Well, it’s time to go a bit deeper, a.k.a. provide some examples of the type of content you’ll post to fulfill your mission on each network.

If you’re not sure what to post, here’s a long list of social media content ideas to get you started. Or (to make it even easier) you can use an AI tool like OwlyWriter to generate on-brand content in a flash.

The idea here is to:

  • Keep your content aligned with the purpose of each network;
  • Show other stakeholders (if applicable) what kind of content they can expect to see on each network.

This last point especially will help you avoid any tension when your colleagues want to know why you haven’t posted their case study/whitepaper/blog post to TikTok yet. It’s not in the strategy, Linda!

Ideally, you will generate content types that are both suited to the network and the purpose you’ve set out for that network.

For example, you wouldn’t want to waste time posting brand awareness tweets if you’ve designated X/Twitter for primarily customer support. And you wouldn’t want to post super polished corporate video ads to TikTok, as users expect to see short, unpolished videos on that platform.

It might take some testing over time to figure out which type of content works best on which type of network, so prepare to update this section frequently.

We won’t lie: content creation isn’t as easy as everyone not on the social team seems to think. But if you’re struggling, Amanda suggests going back to basics.

The first question to ask is: is there cohesion between your content types? Is your content providing value? Do you have a good mix of entertaining, or educational content? What does it offer that makes a person stop and spend time? Creating a few different content pillars or categories that encompass different aspects of storytelling for your brand, and what you can offer your audience is a good start.

This brings us to Step 9.

Step 9. Track performance and make adjustments

Your social media marketing strategy is a hugely important document for your business, and you can’t assume you’ll get it exactly right on the first try.

As you start to implement your plan and track your results, you may find that some strategies don’t work as well as you’d anticipated, while others are working even better than expected.

That’s why it’s important to document your progress along the way.

how long should a masters research proposal be

Look at performance metrics

In addition to the analytics within each social network (see Step 2), you can use UTM parameters to track social visitors as they move through your website, so you can see exactly which social posts drive the most traffic to your website.

Benchmark your results

You’ve got your numbers, but how do they stack up to the competition in your industry? Industry benchmarks are a great way to evaluate your performance against other businesses in your category.

If you’ve got Hootsuite Analytics , you can use our built-in social media benchmarking tool to compare the performance of your social accounts against the average of brands in your industry with just a couple of clicks.

You can set up custom timeframes, switch between networks — Instagram, Facebook, X (Twitter), LinkedIn, and TikTok — and look up benchmarks for metrics like followers, audience growth rate, engagement rate, clicks, shares, and much more.

You’ll also find resources to improve your performance  right in the summary section:

Industry benchmarking in Hootsuite Analytics: Performance summary with dedicated resources for improvement

Re-evaluate, test, and do it all again

Once this data starts coming in, use it to re-evaluate your strategy regularly. You can also use this information to test different posts, social marketing campaigns, and strategies against one another. Constant testing allows you to understand what works and what doesn’t, so you can refine your social media marketing strategy in real time.

You’ll want to check the performance of all your channels at least once a week and get to know the basics of social media reporting so you can track your growth over time.

Pro tip: If you use Hootsuite, you can review the performance of all your posts on every network in one place. Once you get the hang of checking your analytics, you may even want to customize different reports to show specific metrics over a variety of different time periods.

Surveys can also be a great way to find out how well your social media strategy is working. Ask your followers, email list, and website visitors whether you’re meeting their needs and expectations, and what they’d like to see more of. Then make sure to deliver on what they tell you.

Finalizing your social media strategy

Spoiler alert: nothing is final.

Social media moves fast. New networks emerge, others go through demographic shifts.

Your business will go through periods of change as well.

All of this means that your social media marketing strategy should be a living document that you review and adjust as needed. Refer to it often to stay on track, but don’t be afraid to make changes so that it better reflects new goals, tools, or plans.

When you update your social strategy, make sure to watch our 5-step video on how to updating your social media strategy for 2024:

Social media strategy template

Ready to start documenting? Grab your free social media strategy template below!

the cover page of Hootsuite's social media strategy template

What’s next? When you’re ready to put your plan into action, we’re here to help…

Save time managing your social media marketing strategy with Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can easily:

  • Plan, create, and schedule posts to every network
  • Track relevant keywords, topics, and accounts
  • Stay on top of engagement with a universal inbox
  • Get easy-to-understand performance reports and improve your strategy as needed

Try Hootsuite for Free

With files from Shannon Tien .

Do it better with Hootsuite , the all-in-one social media tool. Stay on top of things, grow, and beat the competition.

Become a better social marketer.

Get expert social media advice delivered straight to your inbox.

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions include food, travel, urban gardening, and the Oxford comma—not necessarily in that order.

Amanda Wood is a senior social marketing professional who combines analytical and creative thinking to build brands.

As head of social at Hootsuite, Amanda oversees the global social strategy encompassing organic and paid social on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn, a social engagement and listening strategy, and an employee advocacy program.

As the leader of a high-performing social team, she has extensive experience collaborating with creatives to bring campaigns to life on social and drive business results.

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COMMENTS

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