My Master’s students at Warwick University are required to submit a ‘Project Outline’, and then a ‘Project Proposal’ 4 weeks later. Whilst my Master’s students at Coventry University only need to submit a ‘Project Proposal’.

So what, if any, are the differences between a project proposal and a project outline? and how does this relate to a real business project?

Project Outlines

For a Master’s Dissertation, there are some very simple checks for a project outline:

  • Is the project relevant to the student’s course?
  • Has the student described a real problem, and stated the importance of the topic?
  • Are there any objectives or research questions?
  • Does the student understand the scope of work via an action plan?

In an ideal situation, since the outline is possibly less than a page of work, a student should write several project outlines as they focus in on an agreed research area.

It should be the same in business for real projects. For a real project, the process should be just as simple:

  • Does the project meet the strategic aims of the business?
  • Will the project generate money – or prevent loss of income?
  • Does the organisation have the skills, and capacity to deliver the project?

Following this, a more detailed project proposal can be raised, and the best projects selected for implementation.

Project Proposals

Students at Coventry University are assisted in developing a far more detailed (2,000 word) ‘Project Proposal’ as part of a study skills module, skipping any formal ‘Project Outline’ stage. In reality, the Coventry students verbally discuss their outlines as they are working towards their project proposals.

Contents of a Student Project Proposal

Here is a list of the suggested contents for a 2, 000 word Project Proposal: Word Counts approx.

  • Title and Introduction: 200 Words

A good master’s level title, not too broad, not too specific, with master’s level verbs, and relating to the course that the student is studying. The introduction should state the problem that is to be researched.

  • Literature Scope: 800 Words

The main areas that will be researched for the literature review. This may start with a list of research questions.

  • Methodology: 300 Words

The student should demonstrate an understanding of research methodology and add a statement on the research methods to be used, and why this method has been chosen.

  • Data: 400 Words

A description of the data that is to be collected, or the case studies to be used. This may include an outline of interviews or questionnaires with mention of the ethical issues relating to data collection. There should also be mention of primary and secondary data. If using case studies, some indication of which case studies have been selected.

  • Discussion: 300 Words

This is the area where students demonstrate that they are a Master’s student. Critical evaluation is required – not just a repetition of the questions or how the research is planned.

  • References and Bibliography:

A demonstration that the student can find, use, and reference correctly the literature on their subject.

This structure should cover everything required for a student project proposal.

Contents of a Business Project Proposal

A business project proposal may contain different contents. One of the main aims of business projects is to ‘Make Money’, therefore some financial justifications and calculations may be required.

  • Company Strategic Objectives and how this project will help achieve them
  • Project Aim and Overall Objectives
  • Financial Benefits including an indication of cost. This may include a payback or return on investment calculation, and some comment about cash availability
  • Approximate timescales, with some key dates
  • Key Roles and Responsibilities of employees, departments, contractors, and suppliers as appropriate
  • Key Risks, including assumptions or issues that need resolution.

A project proposal is far more detailed than a project outline, however does not need to be overly complex or detailed. Full detail will appear in the project charter or specification.

Project Outlines are simpler forms of a project proposal which is far more detailed. Ideally a business or student should produce many outlines, some of which are rejected before reaching the proposal stage. Do remember that different institutions or businesses may have their own project proposal templates that must be used.


Posted On: 21st February 2018

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