Manuscript Proposal

How to Structure Your Research Proposal

The proposal will be how you present/propose your senior thesis project. It is called a proposal now but will turn into a manuscript style paper in Psych 495. So, this semester, our proposal will have all the sections of a full manuscript, with the exception of a results and discussion section since you won’t collect data until 495 (so you won’t have results until then). This means that by the end of the semester you will have a title page, abstract, introduction, purpose, method, and reference section (plus any relevant materials in the appendix/appendices).

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When you reviewed articles, you may have noticed similar sections in those papers. This is basically what you will be creating from now through the end of Psych 495.

In this document, there are some general tips on writing in APA style and writing for research purposes (spoiler alert: it is sometimes bland/dry because it is technical with consistent language throughout). There is information for each section of the proposal document – read through this because if you don’t have relevant information you will have points deducted and you will likely be behind for the next assignment. I give lots of feedback and if you don’t have enough information, I can’t help you as much.

To see how all of this looks once it is put together, see the example 495 paper posted on Moodle. Keep in mind that it is not a PERFECT example, it is just an example and some things included here may be more relevant to requirements from that semester. Also, the APA manual has changed, which means some formatting will be different in this example compared to what will be the final product you end up with in Psych 495.


General writing tips:
• Be clear, concise, and to the point. Do not include unnecessary information.
• Keep a narrow focus. Ideally, an introduction should be funnel-shaped, beginning with a broad focus that ultimately narrows down to your specific hypothesis. However, a common beginner’s mistake is to start out too general and take too long to get to the point. Stay focused.
• Back up all questionable facts with references.
• Cite (and actually read) primary sources when describing research findings.
• You can divide your introduction into subsections if it would help to organize themes in the content but subsections are not required here (they are required for the method section).
• The purpose of your study and your hypothesis should be contained in a new section, immediately following the introduction.
• Avoid writing in the first person; it is usually not necessary.
• Do not use contractions in professional writing. This means you should say “do not” instead of “don’t”
• If you use an abbreviation, the first time you should write it out fully. For example, if you note that a study used the Beck Anxiety Inventory. The first time you write it, you would write it as Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and then, the subsequent times you mention the measure, you would just write BAI. (Exception: if you are only going to mention it once, just write it out and don’t worry about the acronym)
• Avoid overuse of quotes. You should only quote when absolutely necessary. So, for this assignment I will allow no more than two direct quotes.

Instead of quoting, you should be paraphrasing (summarizing main points in your own words). For example, if you were telling someone about a movie you watched, you would not say “the writers or the actors said …“ You would just describe it, hitting the main points and giving your own opinion of it. This is somewhat similar to that, though it needs to be a bit more formal and the opinion you present in this case will be in terms of strengths/limitations of the studies you review.
• When referring to past research (in your literature review), use past tense. When referring to your own proposed study, use the future tense – this is something you are (hypothetically) proposing to do in the future, not something you have already done.
• This is technical writing; not fiction or poetry – adjust your style accordingly, use consistent terms throughout, and avoid writing about your personal life or irrelevant information. Stick to the facts related to the research studies!
• Do not support the rationale of your study by saying that you personally find the topic fascinating – this is too subjective to be a good argument. Stick to what past research has shown.
• Peer-reviewed journal articles are a good model for structure and writing style. When you read a journal article, pay careful attention to how the introduction is organized. It will also be helpful to pay attention to how the authors go about citing their references. The formatting may not always be in APA format, but you can get an idea about where and how they place the in-text citations.

APA style tips (not exhaustive! – make sure you use other resources to follow APA style):
• Don’t put any extra information on the title page that doesn’t belong there. Your title page should contain only the title of your paper, your name, your affiliation, and a header in APA format.
• See the APA manual to review the required content of the header.
o Technical tip: Always use the header/footer tool in your word processor to create the header; do not simply type the header at the top of each page (this will result in displacement of your header when you make revisions to your introduction). In order for the header to look different on the first page than on the remaining pages, you will need to insert a section break into your manuscript. Make sure you break the link between headers in different sections. Instructions on how to do this in different versions of MS Word and other word processing programs tend to be very googleable.
• Remember that you need to repeat the title of your paper on the first page of your introduction.
• The preferred typeface in APA style is Times New Roman, 12 points. Other serif typefaces are also permitted, but if you don’t know what serif means, then use Times New Roman!
• The entire manuscript should be double-spaced, with no extra spaces between paragraphs or before or after headings. Even if you think your paper looks better with extra spaces, it is just not correct in APA style.
• Your margins should be exactly 1”.

The APA manual is the best reference you can use to set up the proposal. An alternative resources is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (Purdue OWL) website:

In preparing your Word document where you will write your proposal, you should start by following the directions above for setting the margins, font, font size, etc. You should look over the APA manual or Purdue OWL site to see how you should structure the title page, headers, and references (both in text citations and the references at the end of the document). As mentioned in the syllabus, we are moving to the 7th edition… you can use the Purdue OWL APA site to get the information without having to purchase the APA manual.

There are rules for EVERYTHING and I will be checking to make sure you follow them! This is part of the research process because in order to get research published you actually have to follow rules like this that the journals set (many use APA or other formal formats). In this course, you will only be using APA style… so make sure you use these resources to set things up correctly.

On the next page, there are instructions and tips for writing each of the sections of the proposal.


Title Page

An APA format title page. The only name on the title page should be your name. Make sure you also include the title of the proposal and your affiliation (McNeese State University), as described in the APA manual. An author note is not necessary. Do not include extraneous information (e.g., name of class or instructor). Follow APA formatting for the headers on this page and subsequent pages.


For now, just create a placeholder for the abstract and include a sentence about your main research question/study idea. We will finalize this section later.

Literature Review/Introduction

Your literature review/introduction should be about 4-7 paragraphs. All major arguments that you make in the introduction should be backed up by citations to peer-reviewed, primary sources. You have already identified and read a number of such sources, but it is possible that some of them are no longer relevant to your current hypothesis, and it is possible that you will have to do another literature search for additional sources. There is no hard and fast rule for how many sources should be used; however, for this class you are required to have at least 10 sources (these will likely be the empirical articles you reviewed in your annotated bibliography and any other relevant studies you want to add), with a majority of them being published in the last 10 years.

A good format for the body of the introduction is to have two main sections: Introduction of the general topic related to the topic of your study (generally one paragraph) and background/literature review (this may be several paragraphs, depending on the amount of information you are covering) – note, you don’t need to have separate headers for these parts of the introduction, I just want to help give you some structure. Also, you should NOT talk about your actual study in this section… keep it focused on reviewing the literature, starting with broad information related to your topic, with each paragraph getting to more specific studies that directly relate to your study. The section that will come after your introduction is the purpose section, which will include the rationale/purpose of your study (this may be one or a few paragraphs) and your study aims and hypotheses.

Opening paragraph introducing your topic: This is an opening paragraph introducing the topic of the study (e.g., sleep, stress). Here’s a little more specific information for what to include in the introduction of your topic:
a. Start with a statement about the area of research (not your study specifically, but the general area/problem/idea) – describe the general idea, broadly.
b. Define key terms, if needed.
c. Explain why this area of research is important to the general area of study (not why you personally chose the topic, but why it is important to the field of psychology)
d. Note: you do not need a separate header for this section… I just want to make sure you know the type of content to include in that section.

Other paragraphs providing the background/review of the Literature: This will be the meat of your proposal introduction… it is where you describe what is already known about your topic and lead the reader to your specific study. You should start with broad ideas, funneling down to more specific concepts related to your topic. You should start with broader articles/concepts first, and review literature/articles as they get more and more specific to your study. That way, you will be leading the reader to your specific study topic (more specific with each paragraph).

When reviewing different aspects of the literature (specific studies or related studies), you should include a statement or short discussion why existing studies are not sufficient to answer your question (e.g., pointing out limitations of those studies or how it could be replicated in another setting/population). This helps to justify your study and will lead to your next section, the purpose section. If you have already pointed out limitations or gaps in the literature, you can restate this in the purpose section (see next section below) and make a case for your study.

Again, the introduction should be like a funnel. You want the broader articles first, and then as you go along the articles should get more and more specific to your study. The last article or topic that you discuss should be the most important article to your study.

Other things you should be thinking about when writing your literature review:
a. Summarize what is already known about the field/this topic – based on the empirical studies you have read. Include a summary of the basic background information on the topic that reflects your review of the literature.
1. This should be primarily research/empirical articles, but may include some information from a textbook or other books
2. You should have already read the literature by this point and have the articles organized by similar or contrasting ideas. The lit review is better when you summarize/organize the lit review by topics (rather than just having paragraphs for each article separately without any particular organization).
3. You should write summaries of these studies IN YOUR OWN WORDS
4. Discuss CRITICAL studies – these are things that have been done in the research that are critical to the overall findings in this area… this will lead to your research question(s) and purpose of the study in the next section.
b. Organize the information in a way that leads the reader to the point of YOUR study.

Final tips for the intro related to references/citations:
Be careful: Be sure you know the difference between citing a source and directly quoting a source. Any time you paraphrase an idea, definition, etc. that is contained in someone else’s work, you need to cite that work with author(s) and year. If you don’t, you are plagiarizing. Same thing when you describe in your own words other research that has been done.

If you copy a sentence, or even just part of a sentence (even 3-4 words in a row), directly from your source, you must make it clear to your reader that it is a direct quotation and properly cite this (there is a separate rule in APA style for in text citations when using a direct quote). If you don’t do this, you are plagiarizing. This means you need to use quotation marks (or if more than 40 words, a separate indented paragraph; not recommended for a short introduction like yours), and then also cite the reference with author(s), year, and page number. Use direct quotations sparsely – excessive quoting in place of paraphrasing is “lazy” writing and is rarely done in research writing (only when absolutely necessary, like if you have to provide a precise definition of something) Be very, very careful and respectful of your sources.

Bottom line… Plagiarism is stealing, and it is unethical. Even if it is unintentional, it gives the impression that you are disrespectful and sloppy.


Purpose/rationale for your study: This is where you will be making a case for your research study, convincing your reader why the study you are proposing is worthwhile. What new information will this study contribute that we didn’t have before? Why do we need this information? Your job is to argue that the study is going to contribute to the existing literature. Here, you will describe how you are answering a new research question, getting a new answer to an old question, answering a question about a new population, replicating a study, etc. Basically, explaining how your study is relevant and what it will add to the literature. You include a description of the question(s) you are examining in your study, review the importance of your study (such as those things listed in the sentence above), and end the paragraph with an outline of your study aims with specific hypothesis(es).

Review the separate word document on Aims and Hypotheses for further information about the purpose and examples of aims and hypotheses and then return to this document to get additional instructions for YOUR aim(s) and hypothesis(es).

a. List the SPECIFIC aim(s) of your study – this should be related to your initial, research topic/question and the literature you reviewed

b. Each aim should have its own hypothesis(es).
1. Describe what specific hypothesis you will evaluate with these questions
2. Explain what it will show about your topic if your hypothesis is confirmed
3. Explain what it will show about your topic if your hypothesis is disconfirmed

You MUST organize the study aims and hypotheses in bullet format (rather than typing in paragraph format. This means your aims and hypotheses should look like this:

Aim 1: To study the relationship between caloric intake and weight.

Hypothesis 1A: Caloric (kcals) intake per day will be positively correlated with weight (lbs).

Hypothesis 1B: The relationship between caloric intake and weight will be mediated by minutes spent exercising per week.

Hint: Notice that the aim is broad but still related to my specific variables. The hypotheses are more specific, including how I am specifically measuring the variables and what I expect to find. I am not using first person language (For example, notice how I did not say, “I expect calories to be related to weight.” For more examples, see the other document I posted on Moodle with specific example aims and hypotheses.


The method section is a description of how you would go about collecting data and test the questions you are examining. You should look at journal articles to determine what methods are standardly used to assess that area of research or your type of research question. Adapt one of those for your study’s needs.

The purpose of the method section is to basically state how data will be collected. Here are the sections and the information for each of the sections that you need to include:

1. Describe the broad design of your study… is it experimental or non-experimental, why is this design appropriate or why was it chosen for your study purpose/aims.
a. Look in your text and at examples from papers you reviewed for more information. This section is particularly important if you are doing a complicated design. If the design is pretty straightforward, it might just be a few sentences.
2. Where applicable, describe what kinds of manipulations/variations you would make or test for in order to test your hypothesis(es)
3. Describe the factors you would vary if applicable (e.g., different groups in the study will be exposed to different materials) and how you will assign people to different conditions.
4. Controls: what kinds of factors would you need to control for in your study? Such as, time of day, gender, etc.
5. Describe how you can design your study to rule out or control for apparent effects (e.g., having participants take a timed test at the same time in the morning can control for the effect of natural circadian cycles – which can naturally make people sleepier at different times of the day or including validity questions in your survey to make sure participants are carefully reading items).

1. Describe the sample you plan to include in your study (e.g., undergraduate students at McNeese State University enrolled in psychology classes – this is the “psychology subject pool” you may have heard/read about)
2. Are there any participants you would want to exclude? Why or why not? There must be a research-related reason to exclude people from the study.
i. Don’t exclude people or restrict the age range without an actual reason.
ii. If you aren’t excluding any particular ages, you can mention that those under 18 will be required to have a parental/guardian consent form on file with the department before signing up.

1. Describe the materials you will use in your study. This may include questionnaires you create (e.g., demographic questionnaire) or the validated measures you obtain permission to use form other researchers or off sites containing validated measures (e.g., and
2. You should note what the measure is for (what is it intended to measure), how it is scored or how it will be used in your study, and so on.
3. If it is a measure that has been published and used previously (in other studies), you should cite the original source of the measure, describe the reliability and validity of the measure, how it is scored, and what score/variable from that measure will be used in your study.
4. You will need to include a copy of each measure in your proposal – in separate appendixes at the end of the document. You will need to refer to this appendix in your materials section.

1. How are you going to conduct the study, such as how will you present the stimuli to the participants in your study… this should be a step-by-step explanation of what the participants in your study are going to do.
a. The study procedures will start with participants signing up on SONA, describe how you will collect data in sequential order, and end with a statement about how debriefing will be done.

Ethics and Human Subjects Issues
1. In this section, you will consider potential ethics issues in your study.
2. You should describe your awareness of ethical issues specific to your proposal. This includes considering participant rights, your responsibility, how the data will be stored, etc.
3. You should indicate that your study will seek IRB approval before the study is conducted and that you will follow certain informed consent procedures prior to any study participation.
4. You should describe other important elements in these procedures, such as an explanation of risks and benefits, right to withdraw, etc.).

Data Analysis
1. What program will you use to analyze data?
2. How will you analyze the data? (write about them in this order)
a. What statistical analyses will be used to describe your sample (descriptive statistics, etc.)
b. What statistical analyses will be used test each of your hypothesis (e.g., t-test, ANOVA, correlation, repeated measures ANOVA) – see my example above and note which variables will be included in each analysis.

So, you should have an analysis that is appropriate to each of your hypotheses. It is has to be the appropriate type of analysis based on the type of data and the design of your study.


A reference list (titled “References” – not “Reference List”), which lists all the references you have cited in your introduction. The sources you have used to develop your introduction should be cited in the text and listed in the reference list. The reference list cannot include any sources that are not cited in the text. Also, you cannot cite or include in the reference list any work that you have not actually read. You should make corrections I gave previously and make sure any new references follow APA format exactly. I will be grading the reference list again.


You will include an appendix (or appendices) at the end of your paper to note all of the ACTUAL measures that will be used in your study. You will need to obtain the actual materials you will need to use – but don’t pay for anything (some measures actually cost money and can be quite expensive). I can typically find alternative measures that are free.

It is recommended that you find validated measures (things that have already been shown to be reliable and valid in other studies) rather than creating your own in situation where you are attempting to measure a construct (e.g., stress, anxiety, sleep quality).

As I mentioned above, there are some sites that contain measures that researchers have made available for use clinically or in research. If a site says that permission has been granted (either for all measures on the site or if the site is noting permission for one particular measure), save a copy of that statement. You will need it for your IRB application.

If you see a measure you like that seems appropriate for your study but it is just published in an article, you can email the first author to request permission to use it. Keep in mind that if the paper is old, you may have to track down the first author to email them. Not everyone stays at the same university for their entire career. If you have trouble, let me know and I can help track down info!

Here are some of those sites that have measures or info about where to get measures:

Downloads > Scales & measures

Free measures for dissertations

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