Even established academics find writing a good Research Proposal a difficult task. You have not conducted the research yet, so encapsulating the background of the subject and detailing how you are going to write it is hard. Often you have to summarize a great deal of research into a very short paragraph. Research Proposals can vary depending on the length of study: they can be made for everything from a 5,000 word undergraduate dissertation to a full-scale Ph.D Thesis. However, the basic elements of a Research Proposal are the same across the board and the following steps can act as a guide that should help you create a good one. Generally a Research Proposal should tend towards a three-part structure: introduction, methodology and conclusion; or more roughly, what the problem is, how you are going to deal with it, and how your research contributes to solving the problem.
First, you need a good question to focus your research. It is a good idea to write the Research Proposal around this. It allows you to work out exactly where the boundaries of your study will be. Remember, it often helps to be specific rather than too ambitious: for almost everything up to Ph.D level it is generally better to focus on a small area of Social Work such as a case studies rather than any overarching theoretical study. For many proposals a simple and straightforward title is best: it tells the reader exactly what you are doing and leaves no room for confusion.
Second, you need to introduce the subject. This ideally needs to be written with the non-expert in mind: you need to consider someone reading this part that has no idea what the subject is about and by the end of the paragraph, at least has a handle on what the issues are. Consider structuring it by beginning with the general, focusing the issues sentence by sentence, until by the end of the paragraph you have pinpointed exactly where the research is lacking and where you will fit in the grand picture.
Third, the next paragraph should detail how you are going to approach the subject. Methodology is most important here; don’t waste time talking about the first few chapters of your study, go straight for the elements in which you will be conducting the research. Often at this point you need to provide a projected timetable and sometimes a cost of your research. Ethical considerations may also need to receive a short paragraph showing awareness of such issues. This will receive the most scrutiny of the proposal and so you must make sure your research considerations are realistic, cost-effective and you are able to complete the research in the time allotted, with enough for preparation and writing-up.
Fourth, you need to show how your research will fit into the whole subject. It is almost as if you have begun with a large map of Social Work in the first sentence of your proposal and increased the resolution until the hole in the currently available research is visible. Then you have shown how you are going to fill in that hole. Now you want to pan out again, to show the big picture of Social Work and with your completed research slotted into place, ideally showing how much better the picture is now.
Finally, you should make sure you have a full bibliography and proofread your proposal repeatedly to make sure it reads well. The bibliography will show that you have a strong grasp of your subject area and that your preliminary research has been thorough. This will give the reader confidence in your aims as a researcher as it will show you have a strong foundation on which to build when you complete the full-scale research.
A good Research Proposal should be concise. You normally have to fit in a great deal of information into a very small space and so you should make use of as much of the word-count allocated as you possibly can. You should be prepared for making several drafts and gradually honing the meaning over a longer period of time. Unlike an essay, you should complete a Research Proposal long before you need to hand it in so that you can re-read it again and again to make sure it is clear and concise. Have others read it for you to check your meaning: if your friend with no experience of Social Work can understand it then you know you have done it properly. Take recommendations from professors and other students who know the subject area well. Be as thorough and as diligent as you can.