How to Write a Research Proposal in Leadership Studies: Steps That Make a Ladder

Writing guide
Posted on February 2, 2021

One of the most crucial things that every student writer needs to realize is that a research proposal in leadership studies is not just common research. It is actually a sort of intellectual contract.

To make things a bit clearer for you, research is a complicated process, it’s an investigation that knows no boundaries. Literary speaking, you, being a clever student, can research practically anything and everything. Crafting a decent proposal for your research or study is something way different. When completing a proposal, a student has already got an idea or two on what he/she would like to focus on during the process of investigation.

You need to refer to a research proposal as to a sort of a statement that is expected to be carried out during your actual investigation. Expert writers often call a research proposal — a contract. Legally speaking, a contract is a promise or a deal or a pact between two or more people that lays out all the details and specifics. Your proposal for potential research must become a guidebook for your professor to decide whether it is valuable.

So, what do you need to start with when you are crafting this kind of a guidebook in leadership studies? Below, we have created a full guide for students in need. Look through and find some essential tips.

How to Write a Research Proposal in Leadership Studies: The Levels

Prior to enumerating all the steps, structural elements, and writing techniques, you need to know the true difference between the two types of research proposals in leadership studies. Number one is a proposal for a Master’s degree. If you are working on this educational level, you are never required to complete a piece that becomes a demonstration of immense originality of terms and unbelievable belief that all and each of the questions will be answered according to your expectations.
However, they expect you to show in your proposal a complete understanding of the complexity of the issue and a deep evaluation of the current knowledge in the field. Number two, there is a proposal for a Doctor’s degree which must become a truly significant piece that is able to promote all existing knowledge via a rather deep and really original research. Successful completion of doctoral research in leadership studies predetermines further career development in this sphere.

The Stages of How to Write a Research Proposal in Leadership Studies

  • The Topic

The choice of the topic must be exercised at the highest degree of responsibility. Usually, a supervisor suggests the topic to pick. But it is possible to make a counter-proposal. To know what to suggest as an alternative, read the topics below.

  • The Influence of Management on the Efficiency of the Organization;
  • The Role of Leadership in Non-profit Organizations;
  • The Review of Leadership in the IT Sector;
  • The Essence of the Transformational and Charismatic Leadership Theory;
  • Top Management and Leadership Styles Followed in the Countries of Europe;
  • A Global Perspective of Leadership and Management;
  • What Is the Practical Role of Leadership in Challenging Conditions?
  • How Does Leadership Influence the Manufacturers of Consumer Goods?
  • Challenges in Operation Room Leadership;
  • Developed vs Developing Countries: Differences in Leadership Styles;
  • Gender Roles in Leadership Positions.

Any of the up-to-date topics will be a good choice. Nevertheless, choosing the topic and working on a title is half the story. You need to proceed to the main structure.

  • The Abstract

The total word count of your proposal for research is usually from 5,000 to 25,000 words. And regardless of the word count, you need to provide the abstract which is a short summary of the document. How long should the abstract be?

To demonstrate the importance of each part of the proposal, use around 150-200 words. Even though this abstract is the second in a row, you can write it last after the proposal is well-researched and well-thought.

  • Goals and Objectives

This is the continuation of the title that goes with full details, goals, objectives, and principles of the academic investigation. Here you are delivering the investigation’s description and purposes.

Many students choose (and their supervisors totally support them) to present this section in the form of questions that they plan to answer in the course of the academic study.

  • The Background

You choose either to combine this section with the intro part OR you can craft a totally free-standing block. Its main aim is to assist with the narrative part of the whole proposal. In the background block, they expect you to provide details of the issue’s significance.

What is the approach to drafting a background part? There are many possible options. The one we provide below is just one of them. Follow the tips:

  1. Start by stating the main problem and giving a list of explanations of the purpose of your academic investigation. This is how you will manage to state the complexity of the problem under study.
  2. Go with the rationale of your proposal for research in leadership studies. In this section, you need to answer the so what question. Its task is to indicate the reason why this study is worth been conducted.
  3. Proceed to the core issues of the investigation. It is obligatory to provide a vast explanation of how the entire process is going to be built. Your approach is supposed to be built on previous studies of known scholars.
  4. Manage to set some boundaries and provide a clear focus. It means that apart from stating exactly what you are studying, you also mention what you totally exclude.
  5. And finally, provide the new terms and their key definitions for the reader (your supervisor) to have a better understanding of the topic.
    Once you are done with the background, it is time to move on to the review of researched literature.
  • The Literature Review

There certainly have been works on the same topic or issue before. There is no need to hide this truth. On the contrary, you need to provide readers with a complete overview of works somehow related to your research in leadership studies.

A good literature review is far more than a list of publications in chronological order. You need to treat this part of the proposal for an academic investigation like a story that you need to tell. Here you are explaining the choice of the topic by narrating and citing essential developments of other scholars.

Rule number one is to enumerate seminal publications. Rule number two is to mention all current researches if any. Rule number three is to add own critical commentary that will be the reflection of how deep you are in this topic.

If in your proposal, you forget to mention and analyze some key works on the studied issue, the proposal will surely be treated as shallow. And shallow works are always rejected.

NB. Some students tend to include a review of the literature into the introduction block. To do that, you need to get the guidelines from your supervisor.

  • The Methods

Are you ready to show the readers how you will conduct the academic study? Then do this in the methods section. For your information, all the methodology is related to the theories to be either justified or denied.

It is possible to go only with one method. However, most supervisors suggest picking more than two in order to describe your intentions from all of the possible angles. What methods can you choose? The choice is pretty vast. The top methods are a survey, in-depth personal interviews, or focus group (general) interviews.

Apart from only enumerating and naming the methods, it is also essential to speak of the reasons why you have chosen them. Always provide relevant justification why you’ve made this or that choice for your proposal in leadership studies. Also, you can discuss the number of participants that you would like to engage in the survey or interview.

  • The Schedule

Some researchers refer to this block as to the timeline or timeframe. There are frequent cases when a supervisor or department, on the whole, defines the timeline.

You need to plot the progress of your investigation from its very beginning till the finish line. Usually, such schedules are presented in the form of a table. Any reports and findings are put into the table as well.

  • The Ethical Approval

This section is an extremely rare choice. Why? Only in some departments, any research that involves real participants should be approved by a special ethical advisory board. Before approving, the board ensures that the academic investigation will be conveyed in a respectful manner and that the participants will not be negatively influenced during the study.

Sometimes, students need to have their study approved by more than a single board or committee. Requirements differ from institution to institution. They also depend on the topic in leadership and disciplinary context.

  • The Resources

During the review of the literature, you talked about previous works and studies. Now you need to talk on the literature than you are actually going to use while investigating. Discuss all the resources at your disposal:

  1. Physical — research instruments
  2. Personal — people/community under investigation, all the knowledge gathered and studied
  3. Other — a research team, for example

In this section, you also need to state the resources that you might need for completing your study in the most successful way. Give ideas on how you will try to acquire these resources.

  • Citing

Whatever the topic of your leadership research is, you should remember to cite. The section with citations includes references and bibliography and is the reflection of what sources you have used.

Reference and bibliography are not the same. While reference lists the information of the proposal, the intention of the bibliography is the list of sources related to the research. Plus bibliography also deals with examples, explanations, and terms. A wise combination of references and bibliography helps in creating a better view of the overall proposal for research.

  • Mistakes

Students tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. But we believe if they know their weak parts, they can easily find a correct those mistakes. Below, we have decided to mention the most typical cases when students make mistakes:

  • Paying way too much attention to issues of low significance.
  • Writing very long paragraphs.
  • Writing very long sentences.
  • Filling the proposal with very weak argumentation.
  • Having poor grammar.
  • Making a lot of contextual mistakes.
  • Neglecting the requirements of a certain formatting style.
  • Forgetting about the originality of the piece.
  • Making childish spelling mistakes.
  • Copy-pasting others’ ideas instead of paraphrasing them.

You do not need to make your explanations very long. This is a common mistake for the introduction and final sections of the research proposal in leadership studies. You need to be precise with the contextual boundaries like place and time. You are expected to make all and any of your arguments convincing: proposals with very weak examples are regarded as indecent support for an academic investigation.

It is obvious that you can face difficulties when checking and editing the academic assignment yourself. You can ask for help from one of your friends or family members: a third party can provide perspective and more support than you could think of.

Now you have a proposal due. Once it is accepted, you can start working on your real research work. How to write it? That is another story. Until then, take a bit of time to relax because coping with rather complicated research in leadership is something that can take all of your energy.


  1. Klopper, H. (2008). The qualitative research proposal. Curationis, 31(4).
  2. Krathwohl, D.R. (1988). How to prepare a research proposal : guidelines for funding and dissertations in the social and behavioral sciences. Syracuse, Ny: Syracuse University Press, Cop.
  3. Turabian, K.L., Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.G. and Williams, J.M. (2013). A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations : Chicago Style for students and researchers. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
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