Features of a research proposal


The structure of a research proposal includes various elements. The elements outlined below are applicable to proposals for studies situated in the humanities and those situated in STEM fields but there may be different expectations about the ordering or naming of particular sections. It is best to check any specific discipline or unit/ faculty requirements and preferences.



There are three broad sections in a research proposal: introduction, literature review and methodology.

  • The introduction is written in the present tense.
  • The literature review is written in the past tense.
  • The methodology is written in the future tense.

Cohesive ties

Cohesive ties are linguistic devices that link words, phrases and clauses into fluent sentences and paragraphs. These are important in a research proposal as they help you signpost and order your material. They are especially useful in the methodology section to ensure that your process is clearly and logically set out.


The cohesive ties are bolded in this introductory paragraph.

Artificial Intelligence is an evolving aspect of computer science. Foremost, the thing that makes humans intelligent is our ability to learn from experience. Not only can we learn from our own experience, but also from experiences told to us by other people. In order to decide how much to trust this information, people need to form long-term relationships with each other. Subsequently, this is a first step toward forming communities.

Source: Deidentified student proposal. (n.d.) Protohuman Project. https://archive.urop.uci.edu/SURP/sample_proposals/SURP%20ICS%201.pdf Accessed: 19/1/2023.

Taking it further