The Importance of a research paper proposal

While in high school, most research paper topics are assigned. If they aren’t strictly assigned, students generally are asked to choose from a group of topics, or bounce ideas off of the instructor, who will then guide the student to a suitable choice.

In college, however, you’re more likely to find yourself tasked with coming up with your own topic and writing a research paper proposal. The research paper proposal itself is likely to be graded, and to form a significant part of your semester grade. Due to the way research paper topics are approached in high school, many students are not aware of the importance of developing and writing a quality research paper proposal. Additionally, their prior schooling may not have properly prepared them with the knowledge of how to write such a proposal.

Purpose of a Research Paper Proposal

The purpose of a research paper proposal is twofold:

  • To present the preferred topic of the research paper
  • To defend the topic as presented

Structure of a Research Paper Proposal

While your instructor will undoubtedly have their own preferred structure for research paper proposals, most follow a fairly regular format:

  • Subject (overall topic)
  • How the topic benefits your studies (typically relating to your major)
  • Thesis statement
  • Research strategy
  • Sources selection strategy and sample references


The introduction to your research proposal should be a broad overview of the subject you’ve chosen. For example, if you topic is a particular event during the American Civil Rights movement, the introduction should be a summary of the Civil Rights movement itself and segue into why the event you’ve chosen for your topic is significant.

How the Topic Benefits Your Studies

Make connections between your major (or another important aspect of your studies) and the topic you’ve chosen to demonstrate that the paper will further your academic and intellectual development.

Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is 1-2 sentences that comprise the main idea of your research paper.

Research Strategy

Discuss the methods you’ll use to gather information for your research paper. Will you begin with Internet sources, and then dig deeper, or do you have a primary source in mind that you’ll work from?

Source Selection Strategy & Sample References

Go into further detail on the types of sources you’ll use, and the means you will use to identify quality sources. Include a short list of sample sources for your instructor.