Modern Languages and Cultural Studies

Research Proposal Guidelines

The following outline may be used as a guide. You should consider each of the areas that will be relevant to your research.

  • Background and/or introduction
    • What motivated your research topic?
    • Why does your research topic matter?
    • How will your research contribute to the field.[1]
  • Literature review
    • Define and limit your area of interest along with the parameters of your study.
    • Explain how your research will contribute to the current body of knowledge.
  • Take advantage of the successes and failures of previous works to explore alternative perspectives and methodologies. 

  • Methodology/Theoretical framework
    • Drawing on your literature review, explain which methodological framework (e.g., theories, hypotheses, and instruments) will be employed.
    • Describe the methodology, explain why you chose it and how you will use it
  • If your research involves the collection and analysis of research assets (e.g. photos, audiovisual recordings, texts) or data, explain how you will collect, manage, and preserve them (e.g., interviews, ethics application, and questionnaires). Discuss the tools employed for their interpretation (e.g., models, programs)[2].  
  • Discuss possible limitations arising from your methodology.

  • Research Questions
    • Formulate the questions your research will investigate. Questions should not be too broad or too specific.
    • Research questions should derive from your methodological framework and literature review.
    • Research questions should be connected to each other (as opposed to being a disparate set) and be organized in a logical manner.

  • Dissertation outline
    • The dissertation outline should reflect the literature review, methodology and research questions.
    • Use numbering and/or bullets to organize the outline and highlight the outline rationale.
    • Choose meaningful and specific titles describing the content of each section

  • Timetable/Timeline
    • Include time allocation for each significant stage of the research while allowing extra time for approval/review by the supervisory committee, ethics committee as well as for data collection and interpretation.
    • Be as realistic as possible.
  • References/Bibliography
    • Provide a list of all references that you have cited in the proposal.
    • Use standard citation guidelines (e.g., MLA and APA) and consider using a citation manager, like RefWorks
    • Check spelling, especially for proper names and references in foreign languages.
    • If the bibliography covers various topics, consider using different sections.

Further reading and resources

  • Literature Review:

Becky S.C. Kwan, “The nexus of reading, writing and researching in the doctoral undertaking of humanities and social sciences: Implications for literature reviewing,” English for Specific Purposes, 27.1 (2008): 42-56. Web.  

Find more thesis writing information



[1] You can investigate how original your topic is by checking various theses and dissertation databases: http://guides.library.ualberta.ca/theses-dissertations.

[2] For information on Data Management Plan and related issues, check the section “Further reading and resources”.