Biology Research Proposal: Guidelines and Examples

This article will give you the guidelines on how to write a good research proposal. Furthermore, if you lack idea's for writing a research proposal in the field of Biology/Life science, you will find many idea's in this article which you can use to write a project proposal of your own.

Writing a good research proposal is part and parcel in the life of an academician, student, scientist. You may need to write research proposals for PhD applications, for scholarships, for post-doctoral fellowships, as well as for getting grants and funding.


You may be very intelligent and have an excellent idea but to convince others about your idea, you need to present it excellently. First of all of you need to plan out every detail of your idea, so that you can predict timeline, requirements and most importantly what all you can infer from your data. Secondly you need to write it out in such a manner that you convince the pioneers of your field that your idea is excellent and it should definitely be translated into actual research.

While in some cases the format and word limit of the proposals is mentioned, in other cases you have to write according to your own judgement. The format of a research proposal should include the following basics.

1. Title: The title should be precise and unassuming. Do not write – 'To develop cure for cancer' if in actually you want to check metastatic properties of X compound. A proposal is the not place where you want to make an interesting title that doesn't speak sufficiently about the project. Don't write – 'How do lysosomes eat?' if your project is about pathways involved in degradation inside lysosomes. Be scientific. Don't make the title too lengthy such that it is difficult to understand.

2. Abstract / Summary: In most cases the person reviewing your proposal will decide to read the entire proposal only on the basis of your abstract. So your abstract should be succinct and catchy at the same time. Ideally don't let it exceed 250 words. Avoid excess of technical details in the abstract and emphasize more on the idea and its significance.

3. Significance: Write exactly why is your idea so important. What are the reasons that such research should definitely be carried out. What is the benefit from the research going to be?

4. Objectives/ Aims: Write down the different objectives and aims that are included in your project. It is preferable to break down your project into sections and give each of them a heading – these can act as your objectives/aims.

5. Background / Literature review: Here in put in all the data that has led to the idea. Give proper references for all of the information. Make sure that it flows in logical order and it is possible to connect the statements to each other. If possible divide the background into subheadings all of which reflect the individual objectives. Subheadings can also be made according to any other suitable factors. The background should only include what is relevant for your project and not excess details – e.g. you want to characterize expression level using RT-PCR. So don't start with history of RT-PCR etc., just give a few examples(along with references) wherein RT-PCR has been used for the same purpose.

6. Methodology: This is where you finally explain how you intend to go about your work. The level of detail depends upon the requirements of the reviewer. Usually for grants high level of detail is required in this step. Explain the methodology of each objective in explicit detail. Any references used in section should be properly mentioned. It is also advisable to include a timeline in this section. The timeline should show how much time will be required for each step (e.g. 1st objective – 6months, 2nd objective – 2 years etc.). It is ideal to include a flow chart that illustrates your methodology as well as timeline.
Herein you should also include the expected results as well as what interpretations can be made from those results. Furthermore, you need to add what you would do next if you achieve those results – whatever they might be.

7. References: Make a list of all the references used in the proposal. They should be in any one of the standard formats such as APA or Harvard Style referencing. They can be ordered either alphabetically or according to order in which they appear in the proposal. There shouldn't be difference in font or format in the entire reference list. The references should not include general websites such as Wikipedia or blogs, they can include books and journal articles.
Your proposal should be easy read. Highlight all the important points so that a person skimming through it is also able to get the complete gist. Always maintain flow of thought while writing. Double check your work for grammatical errors and typos as they leave a very bad impression on the reviewer. Make sure that any figures, tables or flow charts included in the proposal are properly labelled.


For those of you struggling for a good idea to write a proposal on here are a few suggestions:
1. Gene/protein characterization (Molecular Biology): Pick your favourite pathway and see if any gene's functions are still not known completely. Many times books mention such genes/proteins which have still not been worked on much. Gene characterization can involve – its expression levels, whether it is under an inducible promoter or constitutive promoter, which all cells/tissues it expresses in, which developmental stage it expresses in, effect of knockdown/knockout of the gene etc. Protein characterization – in addition to the previous steps one include – structure, location within the cell, presence of PTMs, interacting partners etc.
2. Checking various properties of particular compound(s) (Biochemistry): Pick a medicinal plant that has not been worked on much and check the properties of its extracts. These could include antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-cancer, etc. You can include further characterization of the extracts that give any positive result to identify the exact compound (by TLC, GC-MS, reagent based tests etc.).
3. Genome analysis for particular traits (Genomics/Bioinformatics): You can compare genomes of species of economical or medical interest to find out different things such as difference in pathways, presence of homologs etc. You can either compare host and pathogen genomes or you can compare genomes of wild and true bred varieties of crop plants, or genomes of different types of parasite that attack the same host etc.
4. Effect of environmental factors on organisms (Environmental ecology/microbiology): There are so many pollutants and chemicals in our environment. Pick one or few and develop a hypothesis on how they affect the local fauna and flora. Design experiments that can prove your hypothesis.
5. Population level studies: You can write a proposal about metagenomic studies carried out in different locations. E.g. Archaebacteria in swamp areas, fungi in Antarctic, bacteria in deep sea vents etc.

Related Articles

Heaven meets the Sea : GOA

Hello, have you ever been to GOA? No.....! Then you must read this article before planning for a vacation there. Ater reading this article you will be bound to move on.

More articles: Sea


Author: Sarojah25 Feb 2013 Member Level: Gold   Points : 4

I just wanted to add some more ideas in the area of biotechnology. Research on new genes and molecules and especially designing these in computer software may help in finding the medicines speedy.

Also evolution of good and bad germs which affect and causes HIV, HINI, cancer to human beings, animals and plants.

I hope the above ideas may also suit those who wanted to pursue their research in biology/bio technology. Also recently I read an article that, in India, the researchers are very less in this area.

Guest Author: Linam25 Jun 2015

I am trying to come up with a proposal for biological science project for my bachelors degree. Please give me some examples.

  • Do not include your name, "with regards" etc in the comment. Write detailed comment, relevant to the topic.
  • No HTML formatting and links to other web sites are allowed.
  • This is a strictly moderated site. Absolutely no spam allowed.
  • Name: