Research Proposal or Prospectus


A research proposal or prospectus serves two general purposes. One, it is a signal to others of your research plans. It is an opportunity for those who must approve of your research, or of funding your research, to consider your plans. The second general purpose is that it is a great opportunity for you to clarify for yourself what your research plans will be and the steps that you need to take to complete the project.

Key Components of a Research Prospectus

The following is not the only way to structure a research prospectus. As with all aspects of the research process, it is a good idea to be in contact with our advisors/instructors to be clear about their expectations.

Description Example
1. State your research question. It is a good idea to lead with this. Academic writing is not like writing a mystery novel. Readers want to know what they are reading right away. Why is there full democracy in Ghana but not in the rest of West Africa?
2. Explain why the question is important; relevance to scholarly literature Why do we care? What theoretical, empirical and/or policy contributions will the project make? American policy-makers want to spread democracy. Democracies are more peaceful. Democracy is a good thing…
3. Core Concepts What is the core outcome of interest? How do you define, conceptualize and measure the object of your study. What is “full democracy”? How do you define and measure democracy?
4. Working Hypotheses These are possible answers to your proposed research question, which you plan to evaluate for your research project. Full democracy evolves out of the practice of democratic participation.
5. Methods How will you be collecting information and how will you be evaluating your research hypotheses?

What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your approach?

In-depth interviews. Surveys.
6. Next Steps What are your specific research plans. It can be useful to include in this section a proposed outline for the final project, a detailed timeline for completing the project, and a discussion of the feasibility of carrying out research on this project given existing constraints (time, budget, etc.). Outline. Project Timeline.
7. Bibliography Always include a list of sources and try to include a variety of sources (academic journals, books, primary source material), as appropriate to your topic. Boafo-Arthur, Kwame. (Ed). 2006. Voting for Democracy in Ghana. Freedom Publications: Ghana.

Key Components of a Theory Prospectus

Many of the key components of a theory prospectus are structurally similar to a research prospectus.

1. State your question.

2. Explain why it is important and its relation to scholarly literature

3. Discussion of how you plan to answer the question, including likely arguments and approach(es).

4. Next Steps: tentative outline and timeline

5. Bibliography

Contributor: Nicholas Quah