Document that is typically written by a scientist or academic which describes the ideas for an investigation on a certain topic. The research proposal outlines the process from beginning to end and may be used to request financing for the projectcertification for performing certain parts of research of the experiment, or as a required task before beginning a college dissertation.


Components of a research proposal

  • Title page
  • Project summary or Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Rationale
  • Research method
  • Project narrative
  • Work program
  • Personnel
  • Ethical considerations
  • Gender issues
  • Timetable
  • Problems anticipated
  • Budget
  • Curriculum vitae of the investigator(s)

Title page

This page should provide information on:

  • Project title
  • Principal investigator(s)
  • Institution
  • Duration of the project
  • Funding requested

Research grants are normally given to institutions not to individuals. The name of the institution should be given in the title page. If the institution is not known to the agency, brief information about the institution may be given as an annex or may be requested by the agency. The name of the financial officer who will be in charge of administering the grant should be given, in addition to the names of the investigators. The duration of the project must be specified. Most agencies will not commit support beyond three years. The funding requested should be specified. In a multi-year project, the amount requested for each year should be outlined.

Project summary or Abstract

The project summary should be carefully written. It will be the first (and may be the only) part read by the reviewers. It should reveal persuasively the importance and the strengths of the project. The abstract provides readers with their first impression of your project. To remind themselves of your proposal, readers may glance at your abstract when making their final recommendations, so it may also serve as their last impression of your project.

The abstract should explain the key elements of your research project in the future tense. Most abstracts state: (1) the general purpose, (2) specific goals, (3) research design, (4) methods, and (5) significance (contribution and rationale). Be as explicit as possible in your abstract. Use statements such as, “The objective of this study is to …”


The introduction will have three small sub-sections, viz. Background, Problem statements, and Objectives.

Background: This section concerns with background information, urgency, critical gaps in knowledge and need for the present study. Two pertinent questions that help in developing this section are:

What is the context for the proposal?

Why is this study needed?

A review of literature would answer the above two questions. While reviewing literature try to ascertain the following:

– Others have not attempted the problem you had in mind

– If secondary data exists it would be economical to use it for your purpose

– You must get primary data from a procedure of your own.

Review may suggest

– Ideas for your own work

– What not to do

– Convince others about your knowledge of past work in the area

Develop background information leading to the need for the present study. Justification for urgency must be reflected in this.

Problem statements

The background part of introduction deals with a context having a set of problems. In this section, state specific problem of your interest making necessary connection to the context given in the background. Specify limits that can be studied in the time, resources and budget sought. Strive for excellence – not sheer quantity. State what the project is expected to do in one statement, preferably in one sentence. It might be something like: “technological forecasting of edible oil need in the country”.  The initial statement clarifies the basic intent. This does not promise meeting the need for edible oils either by production enhancement or imports. The statement is not precise enough to use as a basis for implementation and needs to be developed into further precise statements in objectives.

Care to be taken in writing objectives such that they must be measurable or specifiable in some way so as to know the completion. This will facilitate the intentions clearly and it also sets useful criteria for evaluation purpose.

Each objective must be clear with indication to broad and specific measurable out put and possible to accomplish in the specified time frame. While writing the objectives try to answer the following queries.

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • The objectives are valuable to whom?
  • Are they measurable?
  • Are they realistic in terms of time and available resources?

If there are multiple objectives, each of the objectives shall lead to a sub-project. Each objective should have a corresponding hypothesis.

Objectives are not to be split unduly. It will be convenient if a multi-disciplinary project is split into number of sub-projects so that each of the objectives can be related to one or two sub-projects directly. One way of doing this is to develop discipline wise sub-projects, to the extent possible.

Literature review

Many proposals require a literature review. Reviewers want to know whether you’ve done the necessary preliminary research to undertake your project. Literature reviews should be selective and critical, not exhaustive. Reviewers want to see your evaluation of pertinent works.


Specify hypothesis corresponding to each of the objectives and involvement of stakeholders. This should not be justification for the project, which appears in introduction.  As a general rule, a formal research should involve a hypothesis, some preliminary information, and a strong hunch suggesting the type of outcome you are likely to find. A hypothesis is to be made as a careful statement of an idea or hunch. The formal study may be preceded by a simple ‘test’ from which ideas or hunches may evolve. However, some studies can be purely exploratory. Remember every study provides a piece of information that did not exist prior to the study. What is important is that the evidence adds a significant body of knowledge or some practical significance or both. Specify this in this section.

Research method

This section is purely technical. This should succeed the rationale section and gives answer to questions on how to realize the objectives. Give approaches with details and references wherever possible. There should not be any ambiguity in giving details. Try to specify how using the listed approaches will solve the problem. Identify the stakeholders, partners or team members. Specify involvement of stakeholders in detail. List all the activities and show methodologies for each activity explicitly.

Specify facilities available and additional resources needed and the method of acquiring resources. Specify activity wise time frame and investigators who will carry out that. Give milestones for each objective. Give details of training and consultancies needed. The management arrangements for execution of the project to be specified. This will be important if the project is multi-location or multi-institutional in nature.

Project narrative

The project narrative provides the meat of your proposal and may require several subsections. The project narrative should supply all the details of the project, including a detailed statement of problem, research objectives or goals, hypotheses, methods, procedures, outcomes or deliverables, and evaluation and dissemination of the research. For the project narrative, pre-empt and/or answer all of the reviewers’ questions. Don’t leave them wondering about anything.

For example, if you propose to conduct unstructured interviews with open-ended questions, be sure you’ve explained why this methodology is best suited to the specific research questions in your proposal. Or, if you’re using item response theory rather than classical test theory to verify the validity of your survey instrument, explain the advantages of this innovative methodology. As the requirements for a strong project narrative vary widely by discipline, consult a discipline specific guide to grant writing for some additional advice.

Work program 

Schedule the work elements listed in the methodology in a sequence indicating the role of each associate. Standard project management techniques like flow chart, gnat chart or PERT network can be used to illustrate this. Specify facilities available and additional resources needed and the method of acquiring resources. Specify time frame activity wise. Give milestones for each objective. Elaborate how the work will be managed.

The management arrangements for execution of the project to be specified. This will be important if the project is multi-location or multi-institutional in nature. Most donors require list of equipment with detailed specifications, time, and schedule for procurement and finally the actual users of the equipment. The facilities available at the host institution to be mentioned clearly. Show that you have not only sufficient scientific and technical skills but also access to facilities and your institution has requisite infrastructure to carry out the project. The chief investigator as the manager of the project has to identify quality resources and manage them efficiently for successful completion. The proposal has to document this aspect. Give details of training and consultancies needed linking their relevance to the project.


Show that you have not only sufficient scientific and technical skills but also access to facilities and your institution has requisite infrastructure to carry out the project.


The entire activities essential to carry out the project are to be identified through the development of an activity network, which consists of actions and shows:

– All major activities, and

– The logical relationships between them.

Usually a project of 2-3 years duration may be resolved to about 10-15 activities. Large numbers of activities make the project complicated and therefore unhelpful. If the number of activities is large they may be reduced by abstraction – by specifying levels to each activity so that major activities belong to a particular level of detail. Activity at the lowest level shall be scientist specific.


For each associate, clearly specify their role, the work division and the financial details. In a multi disciplinary project, develop activities for each discipline or associate so as to bring clarity of work elements and accountability. Relate the training/consultancy needs to the project work. Specify when and where the training has to be provided and whether it can be provided within the country or outside.

Quality concerns

One of the serious concerns of planners is quality of research output. Various indicators have been identified and formulated to identify professional quality. Some distinctive concepts should be available to convey quality in professional out put, i.e. to convey successful and non-successful applications. This has to be peer judgments. If the project is to run successful, then it is important to identify indicators for monitoring and evaluation.

Monitoring and evaluation

Sponsor would like to have periodic evaluation reports so as to judge the success of project at various stages and if need be assist in mid term corrections. Logical framework analysis with stress on participatory working (participation of stakeholders and interest groups in planning, monitoring and evaluation) is the most widely promoted and used by ISNAR, USDA and CIDA. Log frame method intends to structure a debate about objectives with associated inputs and outputs, and assumptions and risks. Following these experiences, NAARM has developed format for agricultural research projects of ICAR.

Log frame method as a project management tool help the participants arrive at agreement on the method to be used and then generate an agreed view of the way in which the project should be managed. The key assumption and risk serves to acknowledge external disturbances during the course of the project. This provides an awareness of source of turbulence with provision for further monitoring and review.


Specify quantitative indicators to assess the project progress and achievement. Explain how to assess or measure them. Give indicator to each activity. Provide who and how many will be benefited and try to give quantifiable figures. Some typical indicators are:

♦ Productivity

♦ Returns

♦ Poverty alleviation

♦ Food security

♦ Gender specific impact

♦ Conservation

♦ Employment generation

♦ Use of indigenous knowledge

For each activity set criteria for performance, i.e. give performance indicators and also measure of performance. This will facilitate monitoring of the progress. The key activities and critical parameters for success of project must figure here. Ultimately this information will be used to judge project progress.


Explain staffing requirements in detail and make sure that staffing makes sense. Be very explicit about the skill sets of the personnel already in place (you will probably include their Curriculum Vitae as part of the proposal). Explain the necessary skill sets and functions of personnel you will recruit. To minimize expenses, phase out personnel who are not relevant to later phases of a project.


Ethical considerations

Approval from the local ethics review committee does not relieve the donor agency from the ethical responsibility for the project. Also approval by a donor agency does not relieve the research institution from ethical responsibility for the project. Ethical issues and concerns should be addressed fully in the research proposal, as outlined in the chapter on writing the research protocol.

Gender issues

Most funding organizations are now increasingly conscious about gender issues. These should be addressed in the proposal, as outlined in the previous chapter on writing the research protocol.


The investigators should commit themselves to a timetable. Explain the timeframe for the research project in some detail. When will you begin and complete each step? It may be helpful to reviewers if you present a visual version of your timeline. For less complicated research, a table summarizing the timeline for the project will help reviewers understand and evaluate the planning and feasibility. For multi-year research proposals with numerous procedures and a large staff, a time line diagram can help clarify the feasibility and planning of the study. This may include a preparatory phase to train research workers, to procure equipment/supplies, or to complete a pilot phase. The timetable should then estimate the duration for collection of data, final analysis of data and writing up the report. In project proposals of a long duration (more than one year), the timetable should set milestones to be reached. These are taken into consideration when progress reports are reviewed by the funding agency. Funding is often released on the basis of these progress reports.

Problems anticipated

The investigators should demonstrate their awareness of obstacles and difficulties, which may interfere with the successful completion of the project within the timeframe and cost proposed. They should explain how these obstacles and difficulties would be dealt with. An investigator who does not anticipate any problem probably has not thought out the details of the project carefully.


The budget request should be itemized and each item should be justified.

Budget itemization

The following are examples of categories of expenses:

  • Personnel (names, positions, percentage of time spent on the project, salary, fringe benefits)
  • Equipment
  • Supplies
  • Patient care costs
  • Travel
  • Data processing
  • Communications
  • Secretarial expenses
  • Publication/dissemination of information about the outcome of the project.

Budget justification

All items in the budget need to be justified and are closely scrutinized in the following way:

  • Are all personnel needed for the amount of time stated?
  • Are critical personnel devoting enough time to the project?
  • Major pieces of equipment are difficult to justify in a small project; an exception may be made for a developing country institution as part of research capability strengthening.
  • The budget should not include any undue inducement for subject participation.

If the duration of the project is more than one year, a detailed budget is needed for at least the first year. Budget request for the subsequent years should be outlined. Agencies would normally approve the budget for the full duration of the project, but funds will be released on a yearly basis, subject to the submission of acceptable progress and financial reports.

Agencies normally will allow some flexibility in the use of the budget, provided the total budget is not exceeded. For shifts between budget items, however, it is expected that the agency’s approval be sought beforehand. An unrealistic budget is likely to lead to rejection of the proposal. The budget may be unrealistic in one of two ways. It may ask for more than is needed to undertake the project or it may ask for much less than is realistically needed to undertake the project successfully. The investigators may want to limit the budget to the funding ceiling of the agency, but keep the large project as it is. Instead, they should limit the project objectives to what can realistically be achieved with the requested funds.


Curriculum vitae (CVs) of the investigator(s)

The ability of the investigators to carry out the project is an important consideration. Biographical sketches of the investigators or CVs should be attached. The track record of the investigators is important. Preliminary studies or other work done by the investigators on the subject should be included.



Systematic investigative process employed to increase or revise current knowledge by discovering new facts. It is divided into two general categories: (1) Basic research is inquiry aimed at increasing scientific knowledge, and (2) Applied research is effort aimed at using basic research for solving problems or developing new processesproducts, or techniques.


v  Descriptive Research

Analytical research

v  Applied Research

v  Fundamental Research

v  Quantitative research

v  Qualitative research

Descriptive Research

A descriptive study is one in which information is collected without changing the environment (i.e., nothing is manipulated). Sometimes these are referred to as “correlation” or “observational” studies. The Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) defines a descriptive study as “Any study that is not truly experimental.” In human research, a descriptive study can provide information about the naturally occurring health status, behaviour, attitudes or other characteristics of a particular group. Descriptive studies are also conducted to demonstrate associations or relationships between things in the world around you.

Descriptive studies can involve a one-time interaction with groups of people (cross-sectional study ) or a study might follow individuals over time (longitudinal study ). Descriptive studies, in which the researcher interacts with the participant, may involve surveys or interviews to collect the necessary information. Descriptive studies in which the researcher does not interact with the participant include observational studies of people in an environment and studies involving data collection using existing records (e.g., medical record review).

Types of Descriptive Research

Ø  Correlation Research

Ø  Causal-Comparative Research

Ø  Case Study

Ø  Ethnography

Ø  Document Analysis

Analytical research

Analytical research is a specific type of research that involves critical thinking skills and the evaluation of facts and information relative to the research being conducted. A variety of people including students, doctors and psychologists use analytical research during studies to find the most relevant information. From analytical research, a person finds out critical details to add new ideas to the material being produced.

Some researchers conduct analytical research to find supporting evidence to current research being done in order to make the work more reliable. Other researchers conduct analytical research to form new ideas about the topic being studied. Analytical research is conducted in a variety of ways including literary research, public opinion, scientific trials and Meta-analysis.

Applied Research

Applied research refers to scientific study and research that seeks to solve practical problems. Applied research is used to find solutions to everyday problems, cure illness, and develop innovative technologies. Psychologists working inhuman factors or industrial/organizational fields often do this type of research.

Fundamental Research

“Fundamental Research” is defined in export control regulations as “Basic and applied research in science and engineering, where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community. Such research can be distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary reasons or specific national security reasons.

Quantitative research

They are most commonly used by physical scientists, although social sciences, education and economics have been known to use this type of research. It is the opposite of qualitative research.

Quantitative experiments all use a standard format, with a few minor inter-disciplinary differences, of generating a hypothesis to be proved or disproved. This hypothesis must be provable by mathematical and statistical means, and is the basis around which the whole experiment is designed.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is designed to reveal a target audience’s range of behaviour and the perceptions that drive it with reference to specific topics or issues. It uses in-depth studies of small groups of people to guide and support the construction of hypotheses. The results of qualitative research are descriptive rather than predictive.

Qualitative research methods originated in the social and behavioural sciences: sociology, anthropology and psychology. Today, qualitative methods in the field of marketing research include in-depth interviews with individuals, group discussions (from two to ten participants is typical); diary and journal exercises; and in-context observations. Sessions may be conducted in person, by telephone, via videoconferencing and via the Internet.



A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship between two or more variables. A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study.

For example, a study designed to look at the relationship between sleep deprivation and test performance might have a hypothesis that states, “This study is designed to assess the hypothesis that sleep deprived people will perform worse on a test than individuals who are not sleep deprived.”


Null hypotheses

The null hypothesis states that there is no relationship between the two variables being studied (one variable does not affect the other). It states results are due to chance and are not significant in terms of supporting the idea being investigated.

Alternative hypotheses

The alternative hypothesis states that there is a relationship between the two variables being studied (one variable has an effect on the other). It states that results are not due to chance and that they are significant in terms of supporting the theory being investigated.

One tailed Hypothesis

one-tailed directional hypothesis predicts the nature of the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable.

  • E.g.: Adults will correctly recall more words than children.

Two tailed Hypothesis

two-tailed non-directional hypothesis predicts that the independent variable will have an effect on the dependent variable, but the direction of the effect is not specified.

  • E.g.: There will be a difference in how many numbers are correctly recalled by children and adults.

Characteristics of a good hypothesis

ü  Hypothesis should be simple.

ü  Hypothesis should be specific.

ü  Hypothesis should be stated in advance.

Elements of a Good Hypothesis

When trying to come up with a good hypothesis for your own psychology research or experiments, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your hypothesis based on your research of a topic?
  • Can your hypothesis be tested?
  • Does your hypothesis include independent and dependent variables?

Before you come up with a specific hypothesis, spend some time doing background research on your topic. Once you have completed a literature review, start thinking of potential questions you still have. Pay attention to the discussion section in the journal articles you read. Many authors will suggest questions that still need to be explored.


  • Needless to say, it can all be a little intimidating, and many students find this to be the most difficult stage of the scientific method.
  • It is just about making sure that you are asking the right questions and wording your hypothesis statements correctly.


The Three-Step Process

Often, it is still quite difficult to isolate a testable hypothesis after all of the research and study. The best way is to adopt a three-step hypothesis; this will help you to narrow things down, and is the most foolproof guide to how to write a hypothesis. Step one is to think of a general hypothesis, including everything that you have observed and reviewed during the information gathering stage of any research design. This stage is often called developing the research problem.

An Example of How to Write a Hypothesis

A worker on a fish-farm notices that his trout seem to have more fish lice in the summer, when the water levels are low, and wants to find out why. His research leads him to believe that the amount of oxygen is the reason – fish that are oxygen stressed tend to be more susceptible to disease and parasites.

He proposes a general hypothesis

“Water levels affect the amount of lice suffered by rainbow trout.”

This is a good general hypothesis, but it gives no guide to how to design the research or experiment. The hypothesis must be refined to give a little direction.

“Rainbow trout suffer more lice when water levels are low.”

Now there is some directionality, but the hypothesis is not really testable, so the final stage is to design an experiment around which research can be designed, a testable hypothesis.

“Rainbow trout suffer more lice in low water conditions because there is less oxygen in the water.”

This is a testable hypothesis – he has established variables, and by measuring the amount of oxygen in the water, eliminating other controlled variables, such as temperature, he can see if there is a correlation against the number of lice on the fish. This is an example of how a gradual focusing of research helps to define how to write a hypothesis.

The Next Stage – What to Do with the Hypothesis

Once you have your hypothesis, the next stage is to design the experiment, allowing a statistical analysis of data, and allowing you to test your hypothesis. The statistical analysis will allow you to reject either the null or the alternative hypothesis. If the alternative is rejected, then you need to go back and refine the initial hypothesis or design a completely new research program. This is part of the scientific process, striving for greater accuracy and developing ever more refined hypotheses.

Examples of a Good Hypothesis

A hypothesis often follows a basic format of “If {this happens} then {this will happen}.” One way to structure your hypothesis is to describe what will happen to the variable if you make changes to the independent variable.


The basic format might be:

“If {these changes are made to a certain independent variable}, then we will observe {a change in a specific dependent variable}.”


  1. Empirical – based on observations and experimentation on theories
  2. Systematic – follows orderly and sequential procedure.
  3. Controlled – all variables except those that are tested/experimented upon are kept constant
  4. Employs hypothesis – guides the investigation process
  5. Analytical – There is critical analysis of all data used so that there is no error in their interpretation
  6. Objective, Unbiased, & Logical – all findings are logically based on empirical
  7. Employs quantitative or statistical methods – data are transformed into numerical measures and are treated statistically
  8. Original work
  9. Done by an expert – the researcher uses valid and carefully designed procedures, valid data gathering
  10. Must be patient and unhurried activity – to ensure accuracy
  11. Require effort-making capacity
  12. Accurate – conducting a careful investigation.
    13. Reliability – having research design & procedures to enable the research to arrive at valid & conclusive results.
    14. Cyclical – having a succession of procedure the cycle that start with a problem and ends with a problem.
    15. Requires courage – calling the researchers will to continue the work in spite of the problem
    16. Patient and unhurried activity – requiring an effort making a capacity.
    17. Hypothetical – giving an intelligent guess before presenting the conclusion.





The Literature Collection is a multilayered grouping of works in literature and the humanities. From medieval to modern, scholarly to satirical, there is something for everyone.



Online databases

The initial emphasis was a comprehensive search of relevant online databases. These computerized databases offer the most effective means of identifying international scientific literature and, in general, cover the time span from 1965 to the present. Databases were accessed through Dialog, a commercial database vendor, and through the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM’s) Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS).

To maximize retrieval, the search strategy incorporated synonymous terms for mustard gas and Lewisite. Thus, the databases were searched by using the following terms: mustard gas, Y pyrite, sulphur mustard, schwefellost, yellow cross, dichlorodiethyl sulphide, Lewisite, and chlorovinylarsine dichloride. Enhanced accuracy in online searching was gained by using Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry Numbers, which uniquely identify each individual chemical. The final search strategy combined the CAS Registry Numbers (505-60-2 for mustard gas and 541-25-3 for Lewisite) and the synonymous terms for each chemical. Individual searches were customized to reflect the structure of each database. For applicable databases, searching was done on the standardized terminology and alphanumeric designators for each chemical found in NLM’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and the MeSH tree structures.

Although there is subject and content overlap, each database serves a unique function, has a distinct subject emphasis, and indexes literature not available elsewhere. For example, the two prominent medical databases, NLM’s Medline and Excerpt Medici’s EMBASE, have only an approximate 36 percent content overlap. To serve the comprehensive goals of this study, it was decided to search all relevant databases in their entirety. A total of 46 online databases were searched, covering biomedical, toxicological, chemical, and regulatory information. As shown in Table 2-1, the majority of these databases were bibliographic, providing citations to scientific literature. Factual databases, Table 2-2, were also searched to provide toxicological and chemical information.

Other sources

Online databases were developed in the mid-1960s, and few offer retrospective coverage. Identifying the literature published prior to this time required the use of a variety of sources. The volumes of Index Medicos covering the years 1917-1965 were an important bibliographic source. Reference lists of major review articles and books were also examined for relevant citations; several provided extensive reference lists. Document collection of published literature involved accessing the collections of the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health Library, the Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library of The George Washington University, and the National Research Council Library, as well as the use of interlibrary loans.

In conjunction with World War II (WWII) research on chemical warfare agents, scientists collected and reviewed the scientific literature and compiled bibliographies, which recorded the pre-WWII literature as well as ongoing military research. These include the bibliography for the Office of Scientific Research and Development, National Defense Research Committee’s Summary Technical Report of Division 9: Chemical Warfare Agents and Related Chemical Problems; chapter reference lists in the three volumes of the National Research Council’s Fasciculus on Chemical Warfare Medicine; and an unpublished bibliography compiled by the National Research Council’s Committee on Treatment of Gas Casualties, entitled Bibliography of the Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare: Published



Not to be confused with a book review, a literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.

A literature review is not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize briefly each article that you have reviewed. While a summary of you have read is contained within the literature review, it goes well beyond merely summarizing professional literature. It focuses on a specific topic of interest to you and includes a critical analysis of the relationship among different works, and relating this research to your work. It may be written as a stand-alone paper or to provide a theoretical framework and rationale for a research study (such as a thesis or dissertation).


A literature review is an evaluative report of information found in the literature related to your selected area of study. The review should describe, summarise, evaluate and clarify this literature. It should give a theoretical base for the research and help you (the author) determine the nature of your research.

Literature review differ from other assignments

The review, like other forms of expository writing, has an introduction, body and conclusion, well-formed paragraphs, and a logical structure. However, in other kinds of expository writing, you use relevant literature to support the discussion of your thesis; in a literature review, the literature itself is the subject of discussion.

Counts as ‘literature’

‘Literature’ covers everything relevant that is written on a topic: books, journal articles, newspaper articles, historical records, government reports, theses and dissertations, etc. The important word is ‘relevant’. Check with your supervisor when in doubt.

How many references to look for writing literature review

This depends on what the literature review is for, and what stage you are at in your studies. Your supervisor or tutor should specify a minimum number of references.

Generally speaking, a reasonable number of references in a literature review would be:

  • undergraduate review: 5-20 titles depending on level
  • Honours dissertation: 20+ titles
  • Masters thesis: 40+ titles
  • Doctoral thesis: 50+ titles

Review of literature

  • The format of a review of literature may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment.
  • A review may be a self-contained unit — an end in it — or a preface to and rationale for engaging in primary research. A review is a required part of grant and research proposals and often a chapter in theses and dissertations.
  • Generally, the purpose of a review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.


  • Problem formulation—which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues?
  • Literature search—finding materials relevant to the subject being explored
  • Data evaluation—determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic
  • Analysis and interpretation—discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature

Literature reviews should comprise the following elements:

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)
  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

In assessing each piece, consideration should be given to:

  • Provenance—what are the author’s credentials? Are the author’s arguments supported by evidence (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, and recent scientific findings)?
  • Objectivity—is the author’s perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author’s point?
  • Persuasiveness—which of the author’s theses are most/least convincing?
  • Value—are the author’s arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?


  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration
  • Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort
  • Point the way forward for further research
  • Place one’s original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of existing literature.


A journal is a magazine that focuses on a particular discipline or subject matter. Journals are sometimes referred to as magazines, periodicals, or serials. Journals are publications that specialise in a particular subject area, containing a series of short, in-depth articles which describe or report on new research.

Journal articles go into detail on very specific subject areas, and recent journal articles are a primary source of the latest research.


  • Peer-reviewed
  • scholarly and academic journals
  • Trade journals
  • Professional journal
  • Current affairs journals.

Peer Review

Peer review is a widely accepted indicator of quality scholarship in a discipline or field. Peer-reviewed (or refereed) journals are scholarly journals that only publish articles that have passed through this review process.

In academic publishing, the goal of peer review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal. Before an article is deemed appropriate to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, it must undergo the following process:

  •  The author of the article must submit it to the journal editor who forwards the article to experts in the field. Because the reviewers specialize in the same scholarly area as the author, they are considered the author’s peers (hence “peer review”).
  •  These impartial reviewers are charged with carefully evaluating the quality of the submitted manuscript.
  •  The peer reviewers check the manuscript for accuracy and assess the validity of the research methodology and procedures.
  •  If appropriate, they suggest revisions. If they find the article lacking in scholarly validity and rigor, they reject it.
  • Because a peer-reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer-reviewed articles that are accepted for publication exemplify the best research practices in a field.

Scholarly and academic journals

Scholarly journals provider articles of interest to experts or researchers in a discipline. An editorial board of respected scholars (peers) reviews all articles submitted to a journal. They decide if the article provides a noteworthy contribution to the field and should be published. There are typically little or no advertisements. Articles published in scholarly will include a list of references.

Academic search engines like are a far better alternative, and they abound online. Use the tools below to find journal articles, which are available in formats ranging from citations or brief abstracts to full text delivered electronically or in hard copy. Some articles are provided free. Often, a fee is required or access is restricted in some way. To find journals using regular search engines or web directories, try adding the word journal or the phrase “electronic journal” to your search term. In directories, look under your respective discipline. Yahoo, for example, lists eleven journals under Science/Biology/Cell Biology and twelve under Arts/Humanities/Literature/Poetry.

Trade journals

Trade journals are geared towards professionals in a discipline. They report news and trends in a field, but not original research. They may provide product or service reviews, job listings, and advertisements.

Indian Trade Journal

In order to keep the Indian trading community informed about the latest business opportunities in India and abroad, the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence & Statistics (D.G.C.I. & S.) brings out the Indian Trade Journal, a weekly publication.  It is brought out every Wednesday. This unique govt. of India publication is the only official journal for publication of tenders of all government of India organisations. The Journal is being published since 1906.

As per the GFR of the Govt. of India (Para 29 of the Annexure to Chapter 8), The Indian Trade Journal should be regarded as the standard medium of public advertisements in India. Hence, the Indian Trade Journal (I.T.J.) is the standard medium as well as compendium of tender notices meant for purchase of stores for use in public service. For export promotion, the I.T.J. incorporates news capsules on policies, both Indian and Foreign, affecting India’s foreign trade.

Popular magazines

Popular magazines like People, Sports Illustrated, and Rolling Stone can be good sources for articles on recent events or pop-culture topics, while Harpers, Scientific American, and The New Republic will offer more in-depth articles on a wider range of subjects. These articles are geared towards readers who, although not experts, are knowledgeable about the issues presented.


Article elements

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Theory/Literature review
  • Research method/ process
  • Results (sometimes divided into results & analysis)
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgements

There are a lot of writing guides available which provide advice on the structure of proposed articles. One example is the commonly known IMRAD (Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion) structure. The terminology may differ somewhat, as for example in the IMRAD scheme the literature review is integrated into the Introduction section, however, the above list presents the literature review separately. Also, discussion, which D stands for in IMRAD, is the same as conclusions in the above list. Discussion in the above list covers the interpretation of the result by the researcher. This again slightly differs from the IMRAD model. To sum up, there is no commonly accepted right structure and terminology. The differences between journals are, however, marginal, once you have understood the essence of the key elements. The best solution for a researcher is to follow the structure and terminology of their target journal.


When considering a title for your article, do familiarise yourself with the types of titles in the target journal, analyse whether they are more general or very specific. The editors-in-chief may want the article titles to sell and gain clicks. This is why in some cases a more general title is better than an overly specific one. Avoid abbreviations in the title as well as unnecessary “and” words. Fundamentally, a very long title is not good as the reader may have difficulties in perceiving the content. Again, there are some journal and field specific differences in the types of titles, and following the practices of your target journal is the best approach. The suitable title length depends on whether your target journal favours indicative or informative titles. Journals favouring short indicative titles may, for example prefer titles with less than eight words. On the other hand, other journals may prefer long informative titles. However, researchers ought to attempt simplifying their titles even when longer ones are allowed.


The Abstract is one of the most central elements of your article, luring other people to read it and may also influence the acceptance of your article. An abstract must describe the purpose of your article. Moreover, it must describe how you have realised your research and provide few key findings and any practical implications. You can build your abstract by answering the following questions with one or two sentences for each one.

  • What is the bigger, more general field your article relates to?
  • What is the purpose of your article?
  • What methodology did you use?
  • What are the key results?
  • What are the practical implications of your research (how can the results be utilised by e.g. practitioners, society or companies)?
Statement of:

  • The question asked (present verb tense)
  • What was done to answer the question (past verb tense) – research design, population studies, independent and dependent variables
  • Findings that answer the question (past verb tense) – the most important results and evidence (data) presented in a logical order.
  • The answer to the question (present verb tense)

If useful, and where word limit allows, include:

·         One or two sentences of background information (placed at the beginning)

·         An implication or a speculation based on the answer (present verb tense, placed at the end)

Key Words

Most journals require the author to identify three or four key words which represent the major concept of the paper.  These are used for indexing purposes and must be selected from the Index Medicus Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

For example “Physiotherapy” is not included in MeSH; the equivalent term is “Physical Therapy”.  In the rare event that an author does not have access to MeSH, the key words selected should be widely-accepted terms.  Lack of access to MeSH should be indicated at the time of manuscript submission.


Background to the topic (past verb tense)

–   What is known or believed about the topic

–   What is still unknown or problematic

–   Findings of relevant studies (past verb tense)

–   Importance of the topic

Statement of the research question

–   Several ways can be used to signal the research question , e.g.,

–   “To determine whether ………”

–   “The purpose of this study was to …….”

–   This study tested the hypothesis that ……”

–   “This study was undertaken to ……”

Approach taken to answer the question (past verb tense)


The Introduction justifies the significance of the subject matter and connects your work to previous research. This chapter can also include a definition of the key terms, if necessary. In reality it is better to use a limited number of terms and be consistent in their use. One rarely needs to invent completely new terms even when discussing something totally new. It is essential for the author to understand the true meaning of the terms used and be able to communicate them clearly.

Theory / Literature review

One can start writing the literature review by finding a few good articles, of which some are from the target journal, and maybe a few good books discussing your topic. Later on use these articles as a base and expand your literature review. Typically, finding one good article relevant to your research starts a chain reaction as some of the references in that article may also be relevant to your work. Write a summary of a few pages based on these articles and books. This will help in obtaining a relevant understanding of your research topic and will act later as a frame for the theoretical part of your article.

Research method / process

The article must describe your research, the set-up and research methods precisely. This way the reviewers can assess the scientific basis of your research and the justification of your results. In principle, the research method/process should be described so that another researcher can repeat the study. You must prove that the methodology you have chosen is robust and applicable for your study. Should you use research methods that are established in your field, it is enough to cite the methods and there is no need to describe these aspects in detail.

It is important to describe clearly how the research is done. If needed, you can visualise the research process. In addition, you can include more justification as appendices, if necessary (for example, in qualitative research the interview questions). In some fields, it is customary to discuss the reliability and validity of the research in the research method section.

Outline of the study design


–   Method of sampling and recruitment;

–   Number of subjects; and

–   Justification of sample size.

–   Inclusion, exclusion and withdrawal criteria;

–   Method of allocation to study groups.


–   Independent, dependent, extraneous, controlled.

Pilot Studies

–   Outcome of any pilot studies which led to modifications to the main study.


–   Equipment, instruments or measurement tools (include model number and manufacturer).


–   Detailed description, in chronological order, of exactly what was done and by whom.

Major ethical considerations

Data reduction/statistical analyses

–   Method of calculating derived variables, dealing with outlying values and missing data.

–   Methods used to summarise data (present verb tense).

–   Statistical software (name, version or release number);

–   Statistical tests (cite a reference for less commonly used tests) and what was compared;

–   Critical alpha probability (p) value at which differences/relationships were considered to be statistically significant.



Results and discussion

While analysing your results, think what the focus of your article will be. However, do not fix the focus of the article too early, but be flexible and open minded. If you realise that your results do not match your original idea, be prepared to re-focus. Let your key results define the article focus. In some cases you may even have a happy problem; you may end up having material for two separate articles.

Consider what the key results of your research are and present them clearly. Build the Results section of your article around these key results. Present your results in such an order that their logic is as easy for an outsider to understand as possible. Should you not have any better way to decide the order of presentation, use the funnel principle; from more general to more specific points. Remember to highlight the key results by using visual elements, such as lists, illustrations and tables. This way, anyone who quickly riffles through the article will focus on the key results and will automatically get a level of conception of your results.

You may include a Discussion section at the end of your results section to explain and contemplate the results. The discussion can either be a part of the Results section or a separate section of its own, whichever is in line with the practices of your target journal. Please note that the reader must be able to separate easily the research facts from the researcher’s own thinking.


·         Answers to the question(s) posed in the introduction together with any accompanying support, explanation and defence of the answers (present verb tense) with reference to published literature.

·         Explanations of any results that do not support the answers.

·         Indication of the originality/uniqueness of the work

Explanations of:

·         How the findings concur with those of others

·         Any discrepancies of the results with those of others

·         Unexpected findings

·         The limitations of the study which may affect the study validity or generalisability of the study findings.

Indication of the importance of the work e.g. clinical significance

Recommendations for further research




The Conclusions section, alongside the Abstract and Introduction, is one of the core elements of a journal article. The Conclusions section can be written up by using the following structure (one paragraph each):

  • Introduction
  • Results (one paragraph for each research question)
  • Significance of the research/practical implications, for example for the society, or business companies
  • Limitations
  • Recommended topics for further study

By using this type of structure, you can make it easier for readers to follow your thinking and enable understanding the core content without reading the entire article. It is important to include the practical implications of your research in the Conclusions chapter; discussing what the implications are for practitioners, companies, etc. Novice researchers tend to concentrate purely on the results and forget about the implications.  The Conclusions must be in line with the previous sections and should not present totally new results. The implications should, however, be discussed.


All important contributors should be acknowledged, for example persons who provided statistical or technical advice and assistance; the subjects; those who helped with recruitment’ and personnel who helped with the preparation of the manuscript.  If the research was supported by a grant, then the name of the funding body must be included.

Visual elements

By leafing through your article, a reader should be able to spot the main findings easily, as well as figure out how the research was conducted and locate any crucial definitions needed to understand your results.

Therefore it is vital that you highlight central aspects of your work by using visual elements. Visual aspects mean anything that differ from the basic text, i.e. figures, tables, listings. The purpose of using visual elements is to direct the readers’ attention to key aspects. One should, however, be conservative in using visual elements excessively as their use may cause unwanted confusion. Also, the use of overly complex illustrations that are difficult for an outsider to perceive should be well justified.

Aim to highlight your own work, not others’ work. The illustrations you use must be your own and should not have been published before. Try to distribute the visual elements evenly along your article. In an optimal situation these elements form a unified whole, just like a comic strip.


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