Module 4: Research Proposals

Learning Objectives
  • Perform biodiversity research through making and translating your observations of the natural world into research questions, hypotheses, and experimental design that are grounded in scientific literature.
  • Communicate the research process to your peers in a clear, effective, and engaging manner.

Written Proposal

Writing about research is a primary method scientists use to communicate their work. Thus, this course will involve developing a written research proposal. We will use several drafts to refine the research proposal. The first draft can utilize the template available in Appendix 6. Subsequent drafts should become more refined and start to take the format of a scientific paper. The proposal should include an introductory section providing background on the topic of interest, drawing from several primary research articles. This section also develops the argument for why the research question is worth studying. The research question and hypothesis should also be included in the introduction.

The second section should include the proposed methodology. Describe how the hypothesis will be tested. It should outline the experiments and what will be needed to perform them. Ideas can be supported by referring to previously published research. The third section will address anticipated results. Consider the expected findings and the implications of those findings for the original research question and hypothesis. Consider what it would mean if the results turned out a different way. Finally, be sure to include both in-text citations and a full reference list at the end. The proposal should have good narrative flow and be proofread for proper spelling and grammar. See the rubric in the Appendix 3 for evaluation guidelines.

Oral Presentation

Scientists also frequently share their research findings via presentations, such as at meetings with other scientists. Developing an oral presentation of the research proposal provides an opportunity to practice communicating science to our peers. The presentation should be ~10 minutes and delivered via a slideshow. The presentation should include the same content as the written portion, but the distinction here the audience will be engaged in a different way. The best presentations tell a good story, so think about how to translate the proposal into a story – typically start with background information so the audience members have some understanding of the context. Then use the background information strategically to build up to the identified research gap and the corresponding research question. The question then leads naturally into the hypothesis or hypotheses to be tested. The final part of the presentation will be the experimental plan – how will the hypothesis be tested? Try to envision all possible outcomes from the experiment and how that will support or refute the hypothesis and inform on the interpretation of the results.

There will be opportunities for questions from peers at the end. It is important to try to ask questions at the end of presentations in order to practice giving this kind of feedback. This is a very common way in which scientists provide feedback to each other on their work. Attending departmental seminars or conferences will enable witnessing this first hand. See the rubric in the Appendix 3 for evaluation guidelines.


Proposal Workshop I

Proposing research ideas is a key element of working in the biodiversity science field. Thus this first workshop will be focused on sharing and expanding upon initial ideas for a research proposal. It will take a lab meeting format with a round table discussion where each student has the opportunity to share their research proposal ideas. Peers will then ask follow-up questions to help support idea development. Incidentally, this also serves as an opportunity to practice communicating science to peers. It takes practice to clearly articulate ideas. Following the workshop, begin exploring some literature related to the topic of interest and start putting ideas down on paper – they will not be polished yet, but it will help to develop the initial draft of the research proposal. See the Appendix 6 for a proposal first draft template.

Proposal Workshop II

This workshop will continue to develop the research question, hypothesis, and experimental design. We will discuss developing ideas in pairs with both the course instructor and classmates. We will work to develop ideas into excellent proposal material by digging into the following questions.

Research Question

  • What is your research question?
  • Is your question clearly stated and focused? If not, how might you tailor it?
  • Why are you interested in this question? What makes you curious about it? What have you learned from previous studies that lead you to want to ask this question?


  • What are your hypotheses/predictions?
  • Are they stated clearly? If not, what needs to be adjusted?
  • Are they aligned with the question you are asking?
  • Why are you interested in this hypothesis?

Experimental Plan

  • What is your experimental plan?
  • Does the design fit with your hypothesis?
  • Are there things that still need to be considered? If so, what are they?

Proposal Workshop III

This workshop is an opportunity to polish. Use this time to solicit final feedback from peers, test out design ideas for the final presentation, or practice delivering the presentation in front of an audience.


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Experiences in Biodiversity Research: A Field Course Copyright © 2024 by Thea B. Gessler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.