How to Write a Research Proposal in Literature

Writing guide
Posted on June 23, 2020

Stuck with your research proposal in literature and looking for tips on how to do it right? Writing an effective research proposal is crucial for the success of any research project. Besides, a convincing research proposal is sure to impress your Thesis Committee and demonstrate your potential as a researcher. That’s why you need to invest time and energy in creating a powerful and clear research proposal to convince your audience that your topic is worth researching and that you have the competence and an effective plan to complete your project. In this article, we’ll discuss general rules of writing an academic research proposal in literature to help you get started. If you face problems with completing other college projects, check other articles on our website because we offer you here plenty of full guides to all writing assignments out there.

Pro tip

What Is a Research Proposal in Literature?

Research proposal is a document that you need to create before you start a research project. It has to provide a brief outline of how you are planning to conduct the research. You need to describe what you’ll actually investigate, why you think it’s important, and how you are going to organize the research process.

  • A research proposal in literature has to contain an extensive literature review just like a research proposal in any other discipline.
  • Your proposal needs to explain why there is a need for your research project.
  • You have to describe in detail the methodology for doing a research.
  • Your proposal has to anticipate the study outcomes or potential benefits.

A good research proposal in literature should show your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm in doing a research. But it’s vital to show that your study is necessary so you should make clear how your work will contribute to the knowledge in your field.

Choosing an Interesting Topic for a Research Proposal in Literature

When it comes to selecting a topic for your research project in literature, the choices are practically endless and the best approach is to pick a topic you are really interested in. Research for a PhD can last for several years so you should be motivated and committed to doing it and it would be better if you could be able to enjoy working on the selected topic.

Besides, you may consider the following approaches to selecting a topic for your research proposal:

  • Study the political, economic or social context in which a work of literature was written;
  • Analyze specific themes occurring in several works;
  • Study the historical events or literary sources that inspired a particular work;
  • Compare and contrast different works that represent the same genre or were written during the same time period;
  • Discuss a literary work’s characters.

If you have no idea of how to get started, here is a short list of impressive research topics in literature for your inspiration.

  • Human Nature and Descriptions of Different Psychological States in the Ancient Greek Literature;
  • The Apocalypse in the Modern American Literature;
  • The Contemporary Crime Fiction and Feminism;
  • Poetics of the Modern American Jewish Fiction;
  • Beowulf and the Contemporary Culture;
  • Religious Background of John Milton’s Paradise Lost;
  • Representations of LGBTQ People in Modern American Novels;
  • Portrayal of the Rural Racism in the Contemporary Fiction;
  • Use of Epic and Lyric Forms of the Ancient Roman Poetry in Contemporary Works;
  • Theatrical Traditions and the Gothic Fiction;
  • The Influence of Bronte’s Jane Eyre on the Contemporary Culture;
  • Debate on Human Rights in the World Literature;
  • Sex and Death in the 18th Century Gothic Literature;
  • Grotesque in the 19th Century European Fiction;
  • Gender in the Native American Literature.

Basic Components of a Research Proposal in Literature

The length of a research proposal in literature may vary depending on the type of your project. For example, if you are planning a Bachelor or Master’s proposal in literature, it should be about 2,000 to 3,000 words long. But if it’s a proposal for a PhD project, it should be very long and detailed. The content or format of a research proposal in literature may vary depending on the requirements of your evaluation committee but still, there are some basic components that should be at least present in any research proposal. Actually, it should look like a shortened version of your dissertation or thesis. Now let’s discuss the basic steps in writing a successful research proposal in literature and take a look on how actually write specific sections that should be included in it.

Title Page

The cover page of a research proposal in literature should include the concise and descriptive title of your project. It should include the key words of your intended research. Besides, you need to include your name, the name of your supervisor, and the name of institution.


If your proposal is long, you need an abstract. It’s a brief summary of the content of your research proposal, about 250-300 words in length. You need to state your research question, hypothesis, mention your methods and potential findings. The best approach is to write your abstract last when you have written a research proposal.


The main goal of this section is to provide the necessary context or background for the problem you are going to investigate. You should introduce the topic and explain why you want to study it. Besides, you have to outline your research question or a problem statement. You should determine the objectives of the research and explain its importance. For example, you may state the goal of your study like this:

My research will explore the ideas of literary radicals such as Shelly and Leigh Hunt and examine how they responded to the contemporary philosophical theories and ideas in political economy.

It’s important to describe boundaries of the proposed research in order to ensure a clear focus. If you find it appropriate, you should explain not only what you are planning to investigate but you can also mention what aspects will be excluded for your research. This section can also include the definitions of the key terms.

Literature Review

This section should provide information about the background of your research question. You need to present a detailed overview of the existing literature on the proposed research topic and identify a gap in it. You should be very specific in identifying debates you want to engage with. The purpose of the literature review is to justify the significance of your research and to explain how it fits in the existing knowledge in your area of study. You need to explain what contribution your research can make to the existing body of knowledge. You should compare and contrast different theories, methodologies, arguments, approaches, and themes expressed in the existing literature. Your goal is to determine what the authors agree on and identify the major areas of debate among them. You should be critical and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

Methodology and Research Design

It’s the most important section in your research proposal in literature because you have to convince your readers that your research is worth pursuing and that your intended approach is the right one. That’s why it may be one of the longest parts of your proposal. You have to outline your overall approach and describe all practical steps that are needed to investigate the research question. You need to present a plan of work and specify a time schedule to help your evaluation committee understand how you are going to tackle the problem.
Literary researches are library-based so you must explain where your major sources are located. Tell your readers how you are planning to work with primary and secondary sources, what tools and procedures you will use, and why the selected methods are the best for answering your specific research question. You need to describe specific methods and procedures to ensure that they can be replicated by your readers.


Your research proposals should include proper citations for all sources you have used. You also need to create a list of the key articles and other scholarly texts that you have used to prepare your research proposal in literature with all publication details. Besides, you can also list other relevant sources that are not included in your proposal to demonstrate your awareness of the scope of literature on the subject. These are the sources that you plan to read.

You should show a full range of the existing literature that will support your study. This section should prove that you did enough preparatory work to ensure that you will avoid duplicating ideas of other researchers and will be able to produce an original project. It’s essential to use the accepted referencing style.

Editing and Proofreading Your Research Proposal in Literature

When writing your draft, you should use clear, jargon-free, and unexceptional prose. Before submitting your proposal to your supervisor, should revise it and check whether it addresses the key areas that we have discussed above. Careful editing stage is a must. You should check the following errors and fix them:

  • Too long sentences and paragraphs that make it harder to read your proposal
  • Awkward, vague or too informal writing – make your proposal concise and to the point
  • Make sure you cite all sources every time you use someone else’s ideas
  • Eliminate grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes and typos to ensure a good impression on your readers
  • Check the consistency of the citation style you use for citing books and articles.

Remember that your research proposal should have a proper layout with page numbers and a table of contents. Never forget to proofread your research proposal and if you have such an opportunity, ask your colleagues or your supervisor for a feedback to ensure that your proposal conforms to academic standards.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Proposal in Literature

  • Avoid writing a lengthy proposal – remember about the required word count. You need to be concise and make your research proposal focused on a specific topic to ensure your work has a clear sense of purpose.
  • Avoid writing a research proposal that is too vague or too broad in its scope. You should demonstrate that you have a well-thought plan for your research and your project fits into the existing literature. You should also prove that you will be able to complete your study within a specific timeframe so you should prioritize one or two main research questions.
  • Avoid providing lots of details on minor issues. You need to focus on your research questions and provide necessary details on the major issues. It’s critical to develop a persuasive argument to support your intended research.
  • Avoid sloppy writing or poor grammar because such issues make a bad impression. You should follow the style and rules of academic writing.
  • Avoid submitting a research proposal which doesn’t fit within current academic interests of researchers within your university. Check staff profiles at your university website to find out about the existing research in the department to ensure that the proposed topic is relevant and can complement it. It’s better to contact your potential supervisor in advance and ask them to comment on a polished version of your proposal.

Wrapping it up, we would like to emphasize that a research proposal is a critical document that you have to prepare during the planning stage because it outlines the entire research process. It shows that you are ready to start the investigation and have the ability to communicate complex ideas critically, clearly, and concisely. It also helps your university to match your research interests with an appropriate supervisor.

Now you understand that writing an effective research proposal in literature that highlights its originality and significance and explains how it develops the existing knowledge is a challenging and a rather time-consuming task. But we hope that our advice on how to write a research proposal in literature will help you cope with this project and demonstrate that your study is important and that you are the right person to conduct it. Feel free to contact our research proposal writing service if you need expert help with your academic project.

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