Guidelines for writing the MS/PhD Research Proposal

The Proposal is a written document that justifies the need for, defines the scope of, and describes the potential implications of the research that you will be undertaking to earn an M.S. or Ph.D. degree. The Proposal Review Committee will review the document and conduct the proposal defense to ensure that:

  1. The research you plan on conducting is sufficiently relevant, significant, and novel to merit a degree;
  2. The scope of the work can be reasonably accomplished in an appropriate length of time;
  3. You have the background knowledge, skills, and resources needed to successfully execute the work.

The Proposal is normally 3,000-5,000 (M.S.) or 5,000-10,000 (Ph.D.) words of text (excluding figures, tables, appendices, and references), and should be well written, concise, and precise. The text should be 1.5-spaced or double-spaced with 1" margins, and pages should be numbered (line numbering is suggested). The figures and tables may be embedded into the body of the text or follow the references. Tables are to be properly labeled and accompanied by appropriate footnotes/headings/captions as necessary to interpret the information presented. Figures are to be accompanied by captions that briefly describe and define key elements. Material in figures or tables taken from other sources should be properly attributed. References are to be cited fully, following the reference format typically used in leading journal(s) in the student's field. After the proposal has been approved by the advisor, it should be submitted electronically (docx or pdf) to all members of the Proposal Review Committee, normally two weeks before the oral proposal defense; the student may expect feedback from members of the committee before the oral presentation.

You may choose to follow the outline below in writing your proposal.

  1. Cover page: List the title, author, submission date, and the Proposal Review Committee members and advisor.
  2. Research Question/Objective:
    1. Clearly state the question or objective that the proposed research aims to address.
    2. Ensure that the question/objective is specific, focused, and aligned with the project’s scope.
    3. Briefly state why the outcome(s) of your research will be of interest to the wider science community.
  3. Background and Significance:
    1. Provide a concise review of existing knowledge and research relevant to the proposed project.
    2. Highlight the gaps or limitations in the current understanding of the topic (i.e. establish the "state of art").
    3. Emphasize the significance and potential impact of your research in advancing knowledge or solving a problem.
  4. Methodology and Experimental Design:
    1. Describe the experimental design, methodologies, or approaches that will be used.
    2. Explain the data collection methods, tools, and techniques to be employed.
    3. Outline any statistical analyses or models that will be applied to analyze the data.
    4. Justify why the methods/data are appropriate for addressing the problem you’ve identified.
  5. Expected Results and Outcomes:
    1. Clearly articulate the expected results and outcomes of the research and how they will be validated.
    2. Highlight the potential implications, contributions, or applications of the anticipated findings.
    3. Discuss any potential challenges or limitations and how they will be addressed.
    4. For each anticipated publication, identify what data, methodological advancements, or analyses will be used, and will be the main scientific contribution expected.
  6. Timeline and Resources:
    1. Provide a realistic timeline outlining the key milestones and activities of the research project.
    2. Detail the resources (e.g. equipment, materials, specialized facilities) required to conduct the research.

If you have questions about what material needs to be included in the Proposal, please consult with your advisor and other members of the Proposal Review Committee. Matters related to interpretation of Graduate School policy or any disputes that arise should be referred to the Director of Graduate Studies for resolution.