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How to write a research proposal?

On this page, we give you a handy step-by-step plan and a good structure for your research proposal.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal, thesis plan, project proposal or plan of approach? You have to write a thesis for your study. First stop? Drafting a research proposal! In your research proposal, you describe the main theme of your thesis. The research proposal forces you to think carefully about what you will research and how you will do it before you begin your research (graduation research). What is the reason for this research? What is the intended end result and what conditions are set by your HBO program (and the company)?

Why do you write a research proposal?

You write a research proposal before you start your graduation process. Firstly, because it is required by your program. Your supervisor wants to see what your plans are and can then adjust where necessary. But it is also important for you to write a good thesis proposal. Your thesis proposal will be the basis and main theme of your graduation.

Research proposal example

You can view an example of a research proposal through your program or online. You can find it online through the HBO knowledge base.

Research proposal – step-by-step plan

Writing a research proposal can be difficult. Where do you start? Use the simple step-by-step plan from Topscriptie! Each step is explained in the following paragraphs. Further on, you will also find a complete and concrete structure for your research proposal. If you still find it difficult, that’s normal. But with the right tips (and 1-on-1 support from Topscriptie) you can handle this task very well!

Step 1. Explore the task

Explore the task and start with a preliminary research! How to get to a good preliminary research? Collect some basic information about the client and the problem that needs to be solved. If you want to write a plan of action, you have to know what you’re talking about! A good start is a conversation with the client, where you establish what kind of company you are dealing with. What is the problem? When and where does it occur within the organization? What are the developments in the organization and the environment that play a role in this problem? Dare to ask questions and make clear agreements. What is the final product you are working towards? What conditions does the client set for this?

So always start with a lot of reading and talking to get to a good preliminary research.

Step 2. Check all conditions

Now you know what the client expects from you. But what does your HBO education require from you? Usually, there are some rules at a university of applied sciences regarding the desired structure of a plan of action. How should your plan of action be structured? What parts may not be missing? Find out! You can find out what requirements your education imposes on your plan of action and your thesis/professional product in the graduation regulation of the university of applied sciences you attend.

And… what are actually the conditions that must be met so that you can successfully complete your research? What support in terms of material and time do you need and from whom, in order to complete the research successfully?

Topscriptie has already helped more than 6,000 students!

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Step 3. Set the structure

Many university students find it difficult to bring structure to their work plan or have it rejected. No need! Topscriptie is happy to help with your work plan. The foundation is a good layout. A work plan is often made up of a number of fixed components. Again, discuss with your client what their expectations are and check the requirements of your specific university program!

Structure of your research proposal: the basics

Below is an example of what a thesis plan structure might look like:

  • Title page
  • Summary
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Problem investigation
  • Theoretical framework
  • Research methods
  • Literature review
  • Planning
  • Appendices

Step 4. Write the content

Title page

On the title page you can mention the following:

  • Title of your work plan (possibly a subtitle);
  • Name of the client (usually the name of the company and the contact details of your business supervisor);
  • Degree and educational institution;
  • Contact details of your thesis supervisor(s) from the educational institution (usually you mention the initials and surname);
  • Date and place (use the date when you submit your work plan);
  • Author(s)


After the cover, the summary and the table of contents, you start with the actual content of your work plan. You begin with an introduction, in which you introduce the subject and the client of your research to the reader and arouse their interest. You go deeper into the organization or subject, such as the size of the organization, the activities and customers, the current situation and developments within the company and the external environment.

You always start with a situation analysis. In this you describe the client (organization) for which you will conduct the research. When describing the organization, you can for example go into:

Description of the company (type of organization, size of the organization, number of employees, departments, mission and vision, products/services, current situation and developments in the organization and external environment)

A good guide when writing the content of your work plan is to focus on relevant information that makes the problem clear. Many university students make the mistake of going into too much detail about minor details. Don’t do it!

 research proposal

Problem analysis: research question & sub-questions

In problem analysis, you explain the reason for your research. You need to formulate this problem into one clear research question and any possible sub-questions. These main and sub-questions must be measurable and answerable. Use neutral (objective) words when formulating your problem statement. A useful tool for outlining the problem statement is the 5W’s: what, why, where, who, when:

What is the problem?

Why is it a problem?

Where is the problem?

Who noticed the problem?

When did the problem arise and when does it occur?

An example of a main question:

What measures must be taken to increase the data quality of all ABC files within the portfolios that can be sold within department X of Organization Y to achieve a data quality of 95%?

Problem exploration: formulate the final result

What will your research yield? What will you deliver in the end? This could be, for example, an advice, or a strategic marketing plan. What requirements must the result meet from the client? It is important to clearly indicate what the final product will be of your research and thesis/professional product. This also includes the delimitation of your research: what belongs to the problem and what does not? This way, the university (and the company) knows exactly what you will be researching and avoids ambiguity or conflicts.

Sometimes it can help to use the fishbone diagram (the Ishikawa diagram) for problem analysis. This makes it easy to analyze a problem.

Problem exploration: SMART goals

No one benefits from vague goals that have no support within the organization and do not lead to a concrete final result. Give your goals a SMART formulation!

Specific: phrase your goal strongly and concretely

Measurable: how much must be achieved?

Acceptable: there must be sufficient support

Realistic: the goal may be challenging, but must still be achievable

Time-bound: indicate when the goal must be achieved

The goal of your research is to collect factual, empirical information and to acquire knowledge and insight (into the problem, the causes of the problem, and possible solutions) that you need to solve the problem.

Finally, summarize your research goal in one sentence, e.g.: “Gain insight into… (what you want to know) …, in order to… (what you want to improve).

Theoretical framework

What has already been researched and known about your topic? What theories, views, models, and discussions have already been published about the problem you are researching? You provide an (initial) explanation of the theory and use various high-quality sources. A theoretical framework supports your research. What do you treat and what not? A useful tool is to select the core concepts from your problem analysis, objective, research question and sub-questions. You can examine and delimit these concepts in your theoretical framework. Also indicate what your research adds to the existing knowledge about this topic.

Discuss multiple theories or models that describe, analyze, or explain the topic. Take a critical approach, try to compare and weigh the theory. Refer to the academic and research literature according to APA guidelines.

Research methods

There are many different research methods. In what way will you perform your research? Do you choose qualitative or quantitative research, or a mix of these types? What technique will you use? Do you choose interviews, surveys, observations or another technique? In this chapter, you not only indicate which research methods you choose, but also hów you will do it, why you choose it, how you ensure good reliability and validity and who your research population is. The choice of your research methods must logically match your problem statement and objectives.

Tip: underpin everything you write! On this page you can find a very handy list of what should be included in the methods.

And further… sources, planning, and annexes

You finish your research proposal with a bibliography (often in APA style), where you list your sources. Then you can show the planning of your research, indicating who will do what and when. This way you and your supervisor can monitor the progress of your research and adjust it if necessary. A plan is an important tool to create an overview for yourself and mentally prepare yourself for what is to come.

After the planning, you can include any annexes in your research proposal. Ensure a logical structure in your story and consider your language use. Have your research proposal checked by a linguist from Topscriptie!

Would you like to get some help with your thesis proposal? Please contact us.

Topscriptie has already helped more than 6,000 students!

Let us help you with your studies or graduation. Discover what we can do for you.


Winner of the best thesis agency in the Netherlands

Winner of the best thesis agency in the Netherlands

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