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The Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna decided to give Avior Byron the Avenir Foundation Research Grant for a one month research trip in Vienna in order to work on two books that he is writing.  

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My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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How to write a research proposal: structure

How to write a research proposal: structure

A powerful research proposal is something that is not easy to achieve. One needs a good idea, lots of inspiration and experience. However, there are several rules that can help you write a good research proposal. In this post I will write about the structure that I use when I write research proposals. You will also find here an example of one of my research proposals. A research proposal in music should include the following sections: context, research questions, aims/objectives, methodology, outcomes, potential significance, bibliography and discography (before you continue reading you may wish to consider subscribing to this blog in order to be updated by receiving future posts via RSS or email).


The ‘context’ section should be more than an introduction. It should give the readers a clear idea about the problems and issues that you are dealing with. In this section you will draw the frame of the picture and decide what will be part of the research, and what is not. You also give a brief reference to what other authors wrote on the subject. It is very important that this part will be focused. Try not to write about all the things in the world. Focus only on the most important issues that bother you. This will save you much energy in the future.

Research questions

‘Research questions’ deals with the questions that you want to answer after the research ends. When you write the proposal you do not know the answers yet. You might have a good guess or a direction, but you do not know for sure what the data will tell you after you will collect it.

Aims and objectives

This section presents to the readers of the proposal what you want to achieve. For example: ‘To understand the reception history of Op. 33a.’ or ‘To explore connections between the musical interpretations of Schoenberg’s circle, and other early performers, and their cultural contexts.’


Methodology is very important since it demonstrates what tools do you have or intend to use in order to answer your research questions and achieve your aims and objectives. Methodology should also include the duration of the research and the library and archives that you plan to use.


This section includes information about what you plan to do with your research after it will end. Will you publish an article? Will it be a paper in a conference? Will it be a book chapter? The ability to publish is considered as a sign of scholarly strength.

Potential significance

Here you want to convince that your research is dealing with issues that may influence others. Both ‘context’ and ‘potential significance’ should give your readers a feeling that your research is dealing with problems that transcend your particular research.

Bibliography and discography

This section should contain a selected list of items that are most relevant to your research. I use a few research links that help me build this section in my proposals. People who sit in comities value good research proposals since they often predict whether or not a research will succeed. Investing thought and time in your proposal is extremely important. Here is an example of the research proposal that I have written for my postdoctoral fellowship in Berlin. If you will read the article draft you will see that there is a gap between the two. Nonetheless, the proposal was very helpful in focusing my research efforts. After the research starts, you should let the data tell you the story. Only this way one can really discover new things. If you have questions do not hesitate to comment on this post in the form below.

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7 Responses to “How to write a research proposal: structure”

  • Justine Nakidde responded:

    Please avail me with a copy of a research so that i can see what it really looks like.

  • Justine Nakidde responded:

    Please avail me with a sketch of a research proposal.

  • Avior Byron responded:

    Dear Justine Nakidde, at the end of this post there is a link to a research proposal that I did.

  • Tuaha responded:

    Hi, wonderful post. I’d like to know what are the various publishing options available for researchers, how they can be officially endorsed and how to go about each type. Thanks, cheers!

  • Avior Byron responded:

    Thank you Tuaha. If you are a PhD student you can try to publish in ECHO or any other postgraduate journal. I never tried this option and went straight to the pro journals like Music Theory Online (MTO). You might want to write reviews in order to gain experience in writing and publishing. You could try Music and Letters or The World of Music. I have less experience with publishing books, although I have a book contract with Oxford University Press and they seem like a great publishing house for music books. You can also read the following post I wrote about Online Music Journals:

  • Willamae responded:

    Thank you for this site. I am a beginning PHD student in the Bahamas, following a leadership Track.
    Can we interact as necessary.

  • Avior Byron responded:

    One of the great things about this site is that it helps me meet people from different places in the world. I’ll be glad to help you. You can contact me via email (see the contact details in the About page), or via comments on various posts.

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