How to write the background of the study for a research proposal?

The background of the study is an important part of the research proposal or the thesis dissertation.

To write the background of the study you first must give context to the study/research. Secondly, you should describe the current situation in that specific context. The current situation should lead the reader to gaps that you found. While you describe the situation and the gaps, make sure to cite published research on the topic you are doing research on. At this stage, you should use journal and conference papers published in the last five years. The closer to the current date the better.

The gaps you identify will set up the foundations for the next section of your proposal: the problem statement. You can read more about how to write the problem statement here.

Table of Contents

Example of Background of the study

This example is from a Master’s Thesis dissertation.

“Computer network technologies have grown speedily in the last decade, and they are susceptible to numerous intrusions (Lotfallahtabrizi & Morgan, 2018). Network intrusion is the act of gaining unauthorised access to a system, with the aim of compromising the system’s security to steal or modify the information found on the system and compromise the availability, integrity and confidentiality of information on a system. Computer systems are exposed to security vulnerabilities and therefore the role of Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSs) has become important as they ensure network and information security (Yin, Zhu, Fei, & He, 2017), by detecting malicious activities on a network (Ponkarthika & Saraswathy, 2018b).

Recently, machine learning methodologies have been widely used for developing IDSs, with Deep Learning as a new trend for building IDSs (Ponkarthika & Saraswathy, 2018; Prajyot & Kalavadekar, 2018; Tang, Mhamdi, McLernon, Zaidi, & Ghogho, 2018; Yin et al., 2017). According to Elsherif (2018), an IDS can be built using a Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) which is a Deep Learning approach. A Recurrent Neural Network-Intrusion Detection System (RNN-IDS) is able to identify seen and unseen threats, as it has a strong modelling ability, provides a highly accurate detection rate, and low false-positive rate, especially when using NSL-KDD dataset (Elsherif, 2018). However, RNN-IDS tend to be biased, as dataset from real-world production networks is mostly not used (Elsherif, 2018) during the training process. Mostly only benchmark datasets are used to train IDSs and the benchmark datasets are not good representatives of real-world traffic (Bhuyan, Bhattacharyya, & Kalita, 2015). This increases the need to use datasets from real-world networks when developing RNN-IDSs, for them not to be biased in the real-world environment in which they will operate. ” (Aludhilu H.N.; An intrusion detection system using a recurrent neural network with a real-world dataset. 2019.)

As you can see, the author first states the context in which the research is taking place. Next, she described the current situation in that context: researchers are using machine learning, among the techniques is the use of Recurrent Neural Networks. Lastly, she stated the gap: ” This increases the need to use datasets from real-world networks when developing RNN-IDSs, for them not to be biased in the real-world environment in which they will operate”.

Whit this background, the researcher is ready to state the problem statement that will be solved with the research.

Background of study vs. Literature Review

Sometimes students mistakenly confuse the background of the study with the literature review. Also, in some documents I reviewed I find the same text in the background and the literature review.

This is a common mistake and should avoid it.

In the background of the study, you give context to your research and state de gaps.

On the other hand, in the literature review, you write about how other researchers try to solve (or solved) the problem you stated.

As you can see, in the background you don’t state the problem, you just state the gap.

After you write the problem you are planning to solve, then you write the literature review. This section (a chapter if you are writing the dissertation) is all about other solutions related to the same problem you want to solve.


When you write the background of the study for your research proposal you must:

  • Clearly give context to your research.
  • Show the gap between what is already published and what is desirable.
  • Use up-to-date references to give context and state the gap, preferably from the last 5 years and from journal or conferences papers.

Related posts