Writing the ‘how’ of your research proposal

Topic Progress:

How will you find answers to your research questions? This is the purpose of the ‘how’ section of your research proposal. Read the following questions. Which of these will you need to answer in your research design?

  • What is your chosen research design and rationale?
  • What theories, concepts or models inform your research design?
  • What are the step-by-step methods (process)?
  • What constitutes your creative practice?
  • How will you engage with your creative practice (e.g. reflection, testing, theorising)?
  • What type of data will be collected?
  • What are your sources of data?  
  • Where and how will the data be collected?
  • How will the data be analysed?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of your methodology?
  • What resources are required (equipment, other)?
  • How reliable and valid are your methods? 
  • What ethical issues relate to your research methods, and how will you address these?
  • Can you complete your research within the official timeframe (demonstrated on a Gantt chart)?     

Your review panel will look for:

  • evidence that you’ve reflected on your research framework
  • evidence that you understand your chosen methodology
  • a clear research plan with sufficient detail to judge whether your methodology is appropriate and likely to answer your research questions
  • specific work to be done, e.g.
    • what data you’ll collect
    • when you’ll collect it and from whom or where
    • how you’ll analyse your data
    • specific steps in developing your creative project
  • a clear timeline in which you’ve identified the key activities needed to complete your research
  • justification for everything e.g.
    • why is this the most effective way of finding answers to your research?
    • why is it better than other methodologies/methods?

Research Design

It’s useful to frame your research design using Crotty’s hierarchy (1998), which shows how belief systems determine research methods:

1: Epistemology:  how you view the nature of knowledge, e.g. objectivism, constructionism, subjectivism.

        This informs your:

2: Theoretical perspective:  the theory or theories that underpin your research, e.g. positivism, postmodernism, feminism.

        This informs your:

3: Methodology:  your chosen strategy, e.g. experimental research, action research, ethnography.

        This informs your:

4: Methods: the type of research and the step-by-step processes involved in your research, e.g. sampling, questionnaire, statistical analysis.

Although these four elements are part of all research design, you may not need to discuss your epistemology, or even your theoretical perspective. For example,

  • most STEMM research (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine), is underpinned by an objectivist epistemology (where meaning exists whether we’re aware of it or not), and has a positivist theoretical perspective (that there is a single, objective reality).
  • In much research in art, a subjectivist epistemology is taken for granted. In these cases, you will probably only need to address your methodology and methods (confusingly, often used interchangeably!),
  • In social science, this may or may not be an important issue. You will need to be guided by your supervisor.

Similarly, depending on whether there is a logical assumption, you may need to explicitly mention that your research paradigm is quantitative or qualitative (or mixed methods).


In your discipline area, will you need to discuss your epistemology, theoretical perspective or research paradigm in your research proposal? If so, how will you justify them?

What does the 'how' section look like?

Click here to see the research proposal you looked at in the previous modules and read the annotations in the ‘Methods’ section. As noted before, although your proposal may have a different structure, there are elements that are likely to transfer to your own.

Now click on one of the following research proposals from the discipline that’s closest to your own. Notice the following, but note that not all proposals have all elements:

  • What are the subsections? (e.g. does it discuss epistemology and/or theoretical perspective? Does it have separate sections for ‘methodology’ and ‘methods’?)
  • How is the literature used?
  • How does it justify the research design/methodology?
  • How specific is it when describing research processes?

NOTE: Comment on these in the discussion forum. 

Planning the research design section of your proposal

We’ve given you a planning document to help you write your research design. Because there are many disciplinary differences between types of research, this is only a general guide. However, we think you’ll find it useful as a pre-writing activity.

 You may find that some elements aren’t appropriate for your research, and we may have missed some important issues, so please modify or add questions as appropriate. We have lists suitable for:

If you’re still not sure what elements you should address, look at the research design/methodology chapters of theses in your discipline. However, remember that these have been written after the research has been completed, so don’t write about your proposed methodology in past tense. You’ll find the research repository here. Check the ‘thesis’ box under ‘Publication type’ and type in your school, department or research centre.

Starter phrases commonly used to introduce aspects of research design

This list of phrases can be used for various aspects of your research design.

  • The underpinning theory that will guide this study is…
  • This methodology appears to be the most appropriate in order to achieve the  objectives of the research.
  • In this research, I will relate the objects or artefacts to…
  • My research involves creative and practice-based enquiry, which…
  • This practice-led research draws upon…
  • Experiments will be conducted using…
  • Data collection will take place in…
  • Data will be obtained by…
  • Data will be analysed by…
  • The analysis will involve…
  • Various methods have been used to…
  • The rationale for this chosen methodology is…
  • The study will apply previously developed techniques for…

What do supervisors say about writing the research design for a research proposal?

Associate Professor Craig Batty.  School of Design & Social Context

Dr Emily Gray.  School of Design & Social Context

Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran.  School of Engineering

Dr Konrad Peszynski.  Business IT and Logistics