How to Prepare a Research Proposal
Research proposals are frequently written in order to secure either a job or funding for a project. As a student, you might need to write a research proposal if you want to apply for a Scholarly Year or a grant. Therefore, the information contained in your research proposal must offer a compelling and detailed rationale for support of your research objectives.
The proposal must be well organized, clearly written and formulated to read like a story, complete with a defined outcome. Place yourself in the position of the reviewer; it is to your advantage to craft a succinct, clear, and focused proposal. Your advisor or the staff at the Medical Student Research Office (MSRO) can assist you with any questions you have. Work with your mentor and have him/her read your drafts. You will glean valuable insights from the feedback you receive.
You must indicate to the reader what is it you want to accomplish and why it is important, and, methodically, how you plan to achieve your goals. Most proposals contain 5-10 pages, depending upon the situation. No matter what the length, be certain it is convincing and interesting.
Font: Choose an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype or Georgia typeface, a black font color, and a font size of 11 points or larger. (A Symbol font may be used to insert Greek letters or special characters; the font size requirement still applies).
Page Margins: Use standard paper size (8 ½" x 11) with one-inch margins (top, bottom, left, and right) for all pages.
Figures, Graphs, Diagrams, Charts, Tables, Figure Legends, and Footnotes: A smaller type size may apply for these components, but it must be in a black font color, readily legible and follow the font typeface requirement. Color can be used in figures; however, all text must be in a black font color, clear and legible.
The Structure of the Proposal
Cover Page: Include your name, the title of the project, your mentor's name and the institution and department where the project will be carried out. The title should let the reader clearly know what the study concerns.
Abstract: A brief summary, 250 words, of the goals of the project, it's significance, the methods you will use and a concluding statement about future implications if you are successful.
The following four sections comprise the Research Plan. For MSSM programs, the research plan should not exceed 10 pages. However, please consult specific program guidelines to confirm the required length. The indicated number of pages for each section is suggested for a 10-page proposal.
Specific Aims (1 page) : Describe the hypothesis(es) you are testing or the question you are asking. What are your research objectives? Be concise, clear and logical. Your methodology should be developed to test your hypothesis (or to answer the question you posed).
Background/Significance (2 pages): What is known in the literature about the problem and which published studies have led you to formulate your hypotheses or develop the question you are asking? Provide a critical review (evaluate, rather than just citing) of the most pertinent work which led to the idea for your study, your suggested hypothesis you are testing (question you are asking) and your approach. How does this project relate to other problems or areas of medicine? This is an opportunity to explain why your work is important.
Preliminary Studies (2 pages) : Describe what has already been accomplished by you (or by your colleagues if you are just beginning the project) in order to make the study feasible. Where appropriate, provide data, even if preliminary. If the preliminary studies were not conducted by you, make this clear. Explain how these results led to your current plans. Mention if you have obtained IRB or IACUC approval and, if this is a clinical study involving human participation, the process for obtaining informed consent of subjects.
Research Design and Methods (3-5 pages) : Describe the methods you will use and why you have chosen them. What will they reveal? How will you analyze the results? What kinds of problems could be expected? Are the methods adequate to test your hypothesis(es)?
Timetable: Provide an approximate timetable for accomplishing your objectives. This is an excellent way to determine whether your research plan is feasible.
References: Reference all literature cited in the proposal. Unless the program's instructions say otherwise, use any format you find in the literature.
Karen Zier, PhD
Associate Dean for Medical Student Research
Christina Wyatt, MD
Grace Oluoch, MBA
Icahn School of Medicine
One Gustave L. Levy Place
Annenberg 13-30, Box 1257
New York, NY 10029