Writing a research proposal

Before you start writing your research proposal, look at our online guidelines, which will help give you a clear understanding of what we look for in a research proposal.

It is recommended the research proposal is no more than two pages long. It should state your research topic and outline your research plan and the objectives you wish to meet. You must also be able to show you have sufficient experience and knowledge in the selected area. The proposal should be accompanied by at least 10 cited references.

Finding a supervisor

Browse our register of supervisors to find one for your intended research project.

Guidelines for writing a research proposal

The research proposal is the base upon which the potential merit of your proposed research will be judged. It is a foundation from which to develop your ideas and methodological approaches, and plan your work and study program.

Proposal characteristics

Your task in presenting your research proposal is to convince your research degree committee that your proposed research:

  • Has merit
  • Is significant
  • Is ethical
  • Can be done by you.

Your proposal should be:

  • Clear (no confusion or ambiguities)
  • Comprehensive (you haven’t omitted any necessary information)
  • Concise
  • Well organised.

Preparing to write a research proposal

When preparing, ask yourself:

  • What am I looking for?
  • What do I seek to prove/investigate?
  • What will I contribute to?
  • What relationships between elements will I consider?
  • What difference will my work make?
  • Why does it matter
  • How will I do it?

Draft proposal components

Indicative title

What will you call the thesis? It’s better to pose questions or make a suggestion about links rather than a single word or area of study. It should be clearly, concisely and unambiguously expressed.

Research question/hypothesis

The research question or hypothesis should define your research, set parameters, and act as a frame of reference for assessing your work.

Research objectives

This section should suggest the underlying research area and your main question and sub-questions. Eventually it will form the abstract for your thesis. Be as precise as possible and avoid a vague statement of objectives.


What issues, problems, history, background provide a context for your own work? How is it contributing to academic work and the body of research and knowledge in this area? Why is it essential that your research be done?

What has been written about your topic? What theories, methods, and sources have been used? Where is the gap that your research will fill?
Where have you taken your theories from? What are the underpinning theoretical perspectives informing your ideas? How are these perspectives combined and how do they relate to and direct your unique piece of research?

Research methodology

What are the research methodologies underpinning your research? What methods or strategies will you be using and why? How do they link with and inform each other? There should be clear links with your objectives.

Ethical considerations

Refer to the Research at Curtin for information on research standards and ethics..


Indicate an anticipated deadline for each phase of your research and main features of each of your chapters. It needs to be realistic.

About research at Curtin

Curtin University is widely recognised for producing practical research that solves real-world challenges. In the latest Excellence in Research for Australia report, Curtin ranked at world standard level or above in 49 of the 69 fields of research that were assessed. It is also in the top 300 of the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

If you have a keen interest to make tomorrow better through research, Curtin offers you a wide variety of opportunities, and access to purpose-built facilities, field-specific information, industry experts and highly accomplished industry mentors.

Every faculty at Curtin is involved in high-impact research that could make a real difference to industry and the broader community. Staff and students are currently involved in more than 70 major research institutes, centres and collaborations.

Curtin’s researchers work closely with industry on many projects. Partners include Alcoa, Alzheimer’s Australia, Bankwest, BHP Billiton, Cancer Council Western Australia, Chevron, CSIRO, Rio Tinto, the Water Corporation and Woodside.

“I checked the university website and Western Australia information websites. I found everything I needed. I got very positive feedback from a Curtin professor. It was terrific, talking about what I could do. Chevron were keen to support the research, basically I just had to apply online and get all my paperwork done. They accepted my application and I came to Australia to do my PhD.”

Laura Machuca Suarez, Columbia, Research Fellow, Corrosion Engineering at Curtin University.