Step by step Guidelines to Write Research Proposal

Step by step Guidelines to Write Research Proposal
Step by step Guidelines to Write Research Proposal

Step by step Guidelines to Write Research Proposal

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There are various important steps that every project students/researchers must know before writing their research proposal. In this post, I will be discussing the critical step by step guidelines to write research proposal. Notably, every activity needs thorough planning. When you have thought out a research problem you must plan how the research will be carried out. This plan which is like the building plan or blueprint to a builder is called a Research Proposal.

The proposal provides a basis for the evaluation of the work and demonstrates clearly that the researches know what he wants to do to arrive at the solution of the problems at hand. It affords him also, a systematic plan or procedure to follow

Before I proceed, please note that, there are various formats for the research proposal and it varies from Institution to Institution. However, most formats include the following



On a single, separate page, prepare a summary of the proposal to indicate its objectives and procedures.


–           Background to the study

–           Purpose of the study

–           Statement of the problem

–           Significance of the study (Implications and Application)

–           Operational definition of terms

–           Assumptions of the study

–           Limitations of the study

–           Delimitations of the study



–           Literature Review

–           Appraisal/Summary of Literature review.



–           Research Design

–           Subjects (Population and sample; Sampling Technique)

–           Instruments (construction and administration)

–           Validity and reliability of Instrument

–           Method of data analysis

–           Statistical Procedure to be used.




Background to the study

After choosing your research area, there is need to give cogent reasons for deciding to work in this area. This area is of extreme importance as it is the pillar upon which you will build subsequent work. You should advance adequate reasons for choosing the topic. If it was borne out of the shortcomings of previous work or to further knowledge in the area, you will need to explain. You will need to think deeply on how your work and the previous ones will throw more light on the problem area or lead to new knowledge.

Background to the study cannot be treated with levity. It should discuss all the variables in the study and shed light on the problems and its nature.


Purpose of the Study

This is just a simple statement of what the concern of your research work is all about. It should be stated in two or three sentences.

It should not be a lengthy affair but straight to the print.

Statement of the problem

The statement of the problem is usually a declarative statement which you must make early at the beginning of your research. This section defines your intention and brings your work into focus. It clarifies outlines and limits the problem area. Thus, it must be good, clear, concise and stated early in the proposal.

You should avoid bringing elements of the background to the study into this section or attempt to justify the work by stressing its significance here. A sentence or two should do the job adequately.

e.g. This study sought to:

“determine the extent to which the mother tongue interferes with the learning of English Language in schools”.


Step by step Guidelines to Write Research Proposal

Significance of the Study

Researches are not trivial or superficial endeavors. You should be able to justify the importance of your study in terms of its implications or possible applications to the general practice of education.

The emphasis in this section is on the benefits of the study to educational theory or practitioners. All the stated hypotheses and research questions should point to this direction. You should therefore ensure that your study can increase knowledge, solve problems and answer some thorny questions in the field of education.

In addition, it should afford other researchers the opportunity to delve further in the particular area.

Operational Definition of Terms

It is not everybody that will come in contact with your work that will be familiar with the areas of study. You should therefore define terms and concepts as you used them in the study.

All un-usual terms must be defined to avoid their being misinterpreted. All variables, terms or methods of obtaining data that are subject to ambiguity must equally be defined. You should try as much as possible to define them in your own words and as you used them in your study.


You may assume certain facts in the course of your research. These must be clearly started. There are certain facts also you may believe but which you cannot verify. There is need to state them as this will strengthen the basis for your investigation.


The research or is often confronted with a number of constraints during the course of an investigation. These are often beyond his/her control. They may place restrictions on the conclusions of the work or their applications in other situations. There are myriads of them ranging from Physical, Human, Financial, administrative polities to unvalidated data gathering instruments, time and sampling technique. These limitations should be clearly and concisely stated as they affect your study.


Your study must have boundaries in terms of sample, variables, time, subject matter, location and variable matching. Delimitations show the scope of your investigation and the extent to which conclusions can be extended in terms of sample, variable and subject matter. It is important you state the scope of your study very clearly.



Theoretical Framework

This may as well be a major part of the review of related literature. Its main purpose is to hinge your study to an existing theory in education. Hardly is there any study that is completely new. A background theory gives basis for your study. There are a number of theories to which you can link your studies i.e. Bruner, Piaget, Gagne, Deurtsch etc.

The theoretical framework sets the theoretical base for the research.

The other parts of the review of Literature often relate the current research to what had gone before it. When the writings of recognized authorities and previous research are summarized and presented, it lays credence to the fact that the researcher knows much about the current research in terms of what is known and unknown about the subject.

Best and Kahn (1980) stated that “citing studies that show substantial agreement and those that seem to present conflicting conclusions helps to sharpen and define understanding of existing knowledge in the problem area, provides a background for the research project, and makes the reader aware of the status of the issue”, It is advised that parading a long list of annotated studies relating to the problem is ineffective and inappropriate. Only those studies that are plainly relevant, competently executed and clearly reported should be included.

Best and Kahn (1980) further advised that the researcher should note certain important elements:

(1)       Reports of studies of closely related problems that have been investigated

(2)       Design of the study including procedures employed and data-gathering instruments used

(3)       Populations that were sampled and sampling methods employed

(4)       Variables that were defined

(5)       Extraneous variables that could have affected the findings

(6)       Faults that could have been avoided

(7)       Recommendations for further research

Thus, the review of literature is a valuable guide to defining the problem, recognising its significance, suggesting promising data-gathering devices, appropriate study design and sources of data.

It is always good to present the review in topical form as the previous studies can be better organised. It is also better to paraphrase cited works rather than assembling paragraphs upon paragraphs of quotations. The last section of the review of related literature should be an appraisal of the reviewed literature. This in essence is a brief summary of the whole literature showing its congruence with the present study. The findings and their implications will be discussed. The gaps presently existing in what had been reviewed about the topic will be pointed out and how this leads to the problems at hand.



The problem of the research, which had earlier been generally stated, is now made specific through Research Questions or Research Hypothesis.

The formulation of hypothesis clarifies further the nature of the problem and the logic underlying the investigation. Hypotheses also give direction to the data-gathering process.

Research Hypothesis is a tentative answer to the question being investigated. It is an informed or educated guess or lunch that is based upon prior research to be subjected to the process of verification or disconfirmation Hypothesis are often started in a “Null form” since it is the null hypothesis that will be subjected to statistical test. However, at this stage, they could be stated in the research form so that you can give a clearer picture of the intent of your study and to show the anticipated relationships between the variables in your study.

You should try as much as possible to include the operational definition of each element within the hypothesis otherwise you may need to give definitions and stipulations required to do this separately.

Of necessity, hypothesis must be formulated before data gathering so that your investigation will not be biased.

The characteristics of a good hypothesis are that it should be

–           reasonable

–           consistent with known facts or theories

–           stated in such a way that it can be tested and found to be probably true or probably false

–           stated in the simples possible terms

Okpala (1995) holds that Hypothesis and research questions are two alternatives (in most cases) and it is best to use one at a time except in situations where it is necessary to combine them but without duplication (i.e. it is better not to have hypothesis and its equivalent of research questions).

Research Question

What is the attitude profile of SS3 Biology teachers in FCT, Abuja Secondary Schools towards computer mediated instructions and students achievement?

Null Hypothesis

Attitude of SS3 Biology teachers towards computer mediated instructions do not significantly explain students achievement in Biology.



This section of the proposal shows how the hypothesized relationships will be observed. It consists of the following components

Research Design



Data collection and Procedures

Data analysis


Research Design

The research design is the plan, structure and strategy operated by the researcher in order that the research question can be answered.

The hypothesized relationships can be observed only through a through and effective control of all sources of variance in the study i.e. extraneous variance, systematic variance, and error variance.

There are various designs available to do this. You have to select the most appropriate for your study.

Systematic Variance

This is associated with the main variable of the hypothesis and is maximised by ensuring that the methods, treatments, independent variables etc are not alike.

Extraneous Variance

These are external factors to the study, which can influence the dependent variable. You can take care of this by randomising your subjects (sample), using statistical control, matching the subjects, including the factors as moderator or attribute variable etc.

Error Variance

This comes mainly from measurement and individual differences (fatigue, guessing, ‘apses in memory, inconsistency of responses etc)

This is often control with controlled experiments. Again, the use of valid and reliable instruments is of utmost importance.



You have to define the population from which you plan to select the sample or subjects of your study. Variables often included in this consideration are: age, grade level, socioeconomic status, gender, race, IQ, metal age, academic achievement level etc.

You should also specit5’ the number of subjects to be selected from the population and how they will be selected. Random selection is advised but where this is not possible the reasons for using other methods must be given.


Researches often strive to establish relationships between various constructs that are usually not directly measurable or observable. An indicator of such a construct will have to be developed, or adopted. Such indicators show what data to be gathered and hence how it will be gathered.

The researcher will therefore describe the instrument in detail. It should be stated clearly whether the instrument is developed, adopted or adapted. In either case, the source and modifications made must be explained. The sources must be acknowledged. If developed, the process of the development must be given.

In addition, if adopted or adapted, the evidence of validity and reliability for the purpose of the study must be reported. Also, if developed, the steps taken to ensure validity and reliability must be stated.

Note that the procedure for the study is very essential whether in experimental study or descriptive research.

Data Collection

The data must be collected carefully to ensure its quality. Bias and error must be avoided. Again, there is the need to plan before data collection is commenced. How the data will be organized and presented should have been determined.

The use of tables, figures and charts are essential in organizing and summarizing data.


Data Analysis

The type of design used for the study is a pointer to the statistical techniques that could be used. This also depends on the type of hypothesis and the type of data (nominal, ordinal, interval or ratio)

The various statistical procedures are not discussed in this text but will be given in another. You should lay your hand on a good book on Educational statistics.



This is the last part of a research project report. Materials which are related to the report and which can be referred to for greater detail but which are unsuitable for inclusion into the main body report are usually placed in the appendix. Such materials are the instrument used for data collection, raw data such as a list of school used for the study, letters of introduction, etc. (Koleoso, 1999).




After the conduct of a study, the researcher must ‘rite the report with a particular format. A research report may be a term paper, thesis or dissertation. The format for writing a report varies from place to place and from discipline to discipline. Research project report is usually written in past tense. Essentially, a research project report comprises three major sections, viz:

  1. The Preliminary Section.
  2. The Main Body
  3. The Appendix

The Preliminary Section

  • The title Page
  • Certification Page
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • List of Appendices
  • The Abstract


The Title Page

This carries information on the project, the programme (degree, diploma, or certificate), the department and the university/institution to which the report is being presented, the particulars of the student or the researcher submitting the project, the month and year the project is submitted.

Certification Page

This is where the supervisor and head of department will append their signatures for approval of the report.

The Acknowledgement

This is used to show gratitude and indebtedness to individuals, institutions, or organizations for their contributions toward the success of the project.

The Table of Contents

This contains chapters, parts of the report and the pages where they appear. Only the first pages are indicated.

List of Tables and Figures

Follows the Table of Contents

The List of Appendices

The appendices and their pages are listed.



This is a short description of the work. It gives an ideal of and purpose of the work, brief description of the methodology and the major findings of the study. It usually consists of about 150 words. The main body of the Report is divided into five chapters as follows:

Chapter 1: Introduction

  1. Background to the Study
  2. Statement of the Problem
  3. Purpose of the study
  4. Research Questions and/or Hypotheses
  5. Scope and Delimitation of the Study
  6. Definition of Operational Terms

Chapter 2: Review of Literature

This treats the review of related literature

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

This chapter comprises the following sub-sections:

  • Research Design
  • Area of Study
  • Population
  • Sample and Sampling Procedure.
  • Instrument for data Collection
  • Validation of the Instrument
  • Method of Data Analysis
  • Result and Discussion


Chapter 4: Summary, Conclusion, Implications and Recommendations

  1. Summary
  2. Conclusion
  3. Implications of the Findings
  4. Recommendations arising from the Study
  5. Limitations of the study
  6. Suggestions for Further Studies


Chapter 5: References

  1. References
  2. Appendix

References are the final state on reporting. References are those works or studies which the researcher cited in his report only. This does not include all other works he consulted but did not cite. If however, the researcher wants to include a list of the works or studies he consulted but not cited, then he is not writing a reference, but a bibliography. Usually, references and bibliographies are listed in alphabetical orders.

First, the authors’ family name, initials and title of the work. If the cited work is a journal, the journal name is underlined or bold followed by the year, volume and pages. If the cited work is a book or other materials, the title is underlined or bold followed by the country/city of publication, publisher, and the year.

References should be indicated clearly enough for other readers to. do a follow up studies if they wish. All reference made in the body of the report plus other additional pertinent information, (e.g. footnotes where they are allowed), are put under bibliography.



In this post, you have learnt the various stages that you pass through in conducting an educational research. Simply put the processes include: identifying research problem, reviewing literature, formulating research questions and hypotheses, stating underlying assumptions, collecting, analyzing data, drawing inferences, implications and conclusions. This unit also identified the main components of research reports or proposals. These components include: preliminary section, main body of the report, literature review, methodology, analysis and findings, summary, conclusion, recommendations etc.

The post also discussed what should be in each chapter of a research project report. The post is written for you to be able to apply these to various research efforts that may come in your way during this course and any other future courses.

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