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Transcript of Research Proposals
What do we already know?
The literature review examines key ideas, key issues, and key findings contained in publications relevant to a specific area of study. The purpose is to find out what we already know about the subject matter of the proposal and to use this as the basis for deciding the specific things that the research can look at to make a worthwhile contribution to the topic.
Checklist for the submission of a research proposal
How long will it take and what will it cost?
Those who evaluate research proposals will want to feel assured about the feasibility of the research proposal and will ask themselves:
Is the research project viable bearing in mind the amount of time, money and other resources needed for its completion?
Can the overall project be completed within the time available? Will it meet the deadline?
AIMS What is it all about?
What is the research trying to do? This is the first thing that any readers of a proposal will wish to know. They will want to have this information in order to assess how worthwhile and how feasible the proposal is likely to be . Without knowing the aims of the research, they cannot possibly judge whether the methodology is appropriate or whether there will be sufficient time and resources to complete the project. So the research proposal needs to provide readers with the relevant information 'up front' near the beginning.
The logic and structure of research proposals
Seven basic questions
What do we need to find out?
Those who evaluate research proposals will be impressed by well-formulated research questions because they will not only appreciate the information that is contained in the research questions about the direction of the research, they will also recognise that well-formulated research questions are the product of clear thinking about the proposed research. Good research questions indicate that the researcher has a good grasp of the issues and has thought carefully about the best way to approach the research. These things will enhance the prospects of success for the proposal.
Is the research socially acceptable?
When someone embarks on a piece of research there is the possibility that they could end up doing more harm than good. Research ethics is about setting standards for conducting research that minimise this prospect. A moral stance is taken in relation to research activity which states that research should only be undertaken for good reasons where it is possible to see some beneficial outcome from the project. This means that:
participants do not suffer harm as a consequence of their involvement in the research;
the research design and research activity are likely to lead to good quality findings;
findings contribute to the greater good, and are not used for selfish or malicious purposes.
How will we get the necessary information?
By the time readers reach this section of the proposal, they should have a clear idea of what the research will attempt to do and they will hopefully be persuaded that this is a worthwhile venture. They will now want to know more about how the research is to be conducted and their attention will shift from
is to be studied to
it will be investigated. Three basic issues:
What methods will be used?:
What research strategy will be used? What kind of data will be collected, and how much?How will the data be collected? Who, or what, will be included? How will the data be analysed?
Are the proposed methods suitable and likely to produce worthwhile data?
Will the methods work and are they feasible?
What will be the benefits?
Good research is undertaken for a purpose. It is undertaken for a good reason with something beneficial resulting from the time and effort that will go into the project. That is why those who evaluate research proposals will look for information about the
from the research. They will want to know the 'deliverables' that will be produced by the research. A vital distinction needs to be made between 'outcomes' and 'findings'. Outcomes can be stated ahead of the actual research, whereas findings cannot. A proposal must never suggest that the research will result in particular
. To do so, the researcher would have to know the findings in advance of carrying out the research. Researchers can have hunches about what the findings might be. They can produce hypotheses that state what findings might be expected. But the point of any research is to test these and to approach things with an open mind, thus entertaining the idea of being proved wrong.
Outcomes are a different thing. Whereas findings are concerned with the results and the specifics of what the data might reveal, outcomes are concerned with the
to which these findings are put. Outcomes are about how the findings will be applied and how they will be made available. And this
something that can be included at the planning stage before the research begins.
Within the space of a few words the researcher has to capture the essence of the research 'in a nutshell' and it is vital, therefore, that the title should be clear, accurate and precise.
Keep things serious and straight forward
Check that the title matches the content . Ideas develop and change during the course of planning a project. So when you have finished writing the proposal go back to the beginning, look at the title afresh and make sure that it still accurately depicts the research you propose to do.
There is no absolute rule but there is a convention of titles that involves dividing the title into two components, which are separated by a colon (:). These components consist of a main title outlining: the general area of the research; a supplement that includes more specific information.
Overall titles tend to be around 10 to 30 words in length
Like the title, keywords also capture the essence of the research 'in a nutshell'.
Think of the key words as terms you would use to search online for your research
The aims (or 'purpose statement') of the research indicate the direction in which the rsearch will go and point to the target that the research hopes to hit.
Types of research aims
It is important to be clear about which type of aim is being pursued by the proposed research. From the reader's point of view, this helps to provide a clear picture of the overall purpose of the research. It is also important because different tpes of aims call for different approaches to the research; they tend to be associated with different research paradigms. It is therefore good practice to identiy clearly whether the research is attempting to do one or more of the following:
explain the causes or consequences of something
criticise or evaluate some theory or belief
forecast some outcome
develop good practice
Scope and scale
It is a common mistake to set targets that cannot reasonably be achieved within the available time and resources
Presentation of aims
This can be done using a list of phrases, each of which starts with a verb - a verb that is particularly relevant for research activity e.g.
Do not make too many assumptions about what the reader might know about the subject area of the research
Use the background section to set the scene for the proposed research
Provide some evidence to support your account of the background to the research
For research proposals, the literature review tends to be preliminary. In most cases it will be continued as part of the project once the project has gained approval and got underway.
What literature should be included?
How do I 'review' the publications?
Do the selected sources include some core, well-established works that act as signposts to the direction of the research and demonstrate the researcher's familiarity with the subject area?
Are there some recent works that show familiarity with current developments in the field and indicate that the proposed research is up to date?
Is there a balance of books, articles, and online sources that are appropriate for the field of investigation?
The works that are referred to should be those that come from
published sources that are authoritative and credible.
This means the researcher should be looking for sources of material that come from:
academic theses and dissertations
The internet has opened up an avenue for making literature publicly available without the involvement of a publishing company and, today, practically anyone can publish something on the web. As a consequence, it is now the
credibility of the source of
the publication that is crucial.
Use a suitable software package to manage your research literature e.g. End-Note, Mendeley, Zotero
Analyse the material
Mapping out the area:
What are the key studies and who are the main authors in the area?
What are the key theories and perspectives running through the literature?
What are the core issues and problems addressed by the literature?
Taking an overview of the area:
What are the common areas of agreement among the authors?
What are the overall findings from their research?
Where are the areas of disagreement, contradictions, and gaps in the material?
What new research might be valuable to move things forward?
Don't just list what others have said and done. The literature review is not a catalogue or inventory of items. The idea is to compare and contrast the works, to look for common elements, and to note what strengths and weaknesses there are in the works.
Be critical. But criticise the ideas, not the authors. Don't get personal. It's the ideas that matter.
What message should the literature review contain?
Show that there is a need for the proposed research:
builds upon existing knowledge
fill sa gap in existing knowledge
adopts a critical stance
tackles a problem
Argue that the proposed research meets that need:
show how the research is timely
establish that the proposed methods are suitable
arrive at a
Use the literature review to argue that the research is needed and worthwhile
A good literarture review:
refers to facts, reports, and authors to signpost the nature of the research and its purpose
demonstrates the researcher's familiarity with key ideas in the area of study
identifies the intellectual origins of the ideas underlying the proposed research
identifies some element of newness and originality associated with the research
describes the research objectives and provides a rationale for the research questions
Research questions pinpoint exactly what we need to find out
Research questions should ask about specific 'things' rather than abstract ideas. The questions should be:
specific rather than general
precise rather than vague
concrete rather abstract
Never say that your findings will prove a hypothesis is correct. Results from research do not prove or disprove a hypothesis; they test a hypothesis and provide evidence that
does not support
Avoid reiterating the aims when writing research questions. The research questions should identify specific and relevant things that will be looked at rather than broad ambitions to be aimed for.
Good research questions:
are apparent as a distinctive feature within the research proposal;
are self-contained: they do not combine questions or include questions that beg other questions, nor do they make unwarranted presumptions;
are straightforward: each question/proposition/hypothesis deals with a distinct issue or idea - one sentence, one issue;
avoid forgone conclusions: they should be 'open' and not presume an outcome;
are presented in a logical sequence
The iterative process of formulating research questions
Description of the methods
Justification of the choice of methods
What research strategy will be used?
e.g. action research, case study, survey etc.
'This research will use a case study approach to delve deeply into..
.(the research questions)
What methods of data collection will be used?
: will the research use unstructured, semi-structured or structured types of interview?
: will the questionnaire use open-ended or closed-ended questions? Or will it include both?
: will the research involve systematic observation or participant observation? What items will be observed?
: will the research focus on documents - diaries, websites, minutes of meetings, official records, etc?
What kind of data will be collected?
Quantitative or Qualitative?
Or a mixed methods approach?
How will the data be collected?
will they be face-to-face, one-to-one, via telephone, focus group? Will interviews be recorded?
will they be administered to groups or to individuals? Will they use open or closed ended questions?
, will the data be based on field notes or an observation schedule?
, will they be official documents or informal records? Will they consist of text or images?
Checklist for the description of methods
Have I included brief information about:
kind of data?
how much data?
who (or what) will be included, and how selected?
how the data will be collected (when, where, practicalities)?
access to data and authorisation?
data analysis (process and techniques)?
Provide details of how and when the methods will be put into practice. A good proposal does not rely on a simple statement of which method (or methods) will be used. It complements this with additional information about the particular variant and how the method will be used.
Show how the chosen method is preferable to potential alternatives. Discuss their respective merits and failings.
Methods as 'fit for pupose'? Consider:
the use of
qualitative or quantitative data:
What are their respective strengths? Which is better suited to the needs of this particular research? Is a mixed-methods approach preferable?
Depth or breadth
of data: Will a case study be better than a survey, or vice versa, in terms of the particular research questions being looked at? Is there a need for depth of focus or is there a need for data drawn from widespread sources?
of the data produced: Will the data be accurate? Will they focus on the right issues? Is the chosen method better than alternatives in terms of getting honest responses from participants?
of the method: Will the method(s) produce the same data if the same research is repeated?
The possibility of
from findings: Can the findings be extrapolated to other situations/examples? Is this possible and is it important? Is this crucial for the research?
The extent to which the data are
: Is it better to include all (or a sample) of a population or will research along the lines of a case study be more suitable?
The extent to which the methods are
: Is this possible bearing in mind the research questions being addressed? How much does it matter?
Be open about the limitations of the proposed research. All research has its limitations.
expand on some of the bare bones about the methods;
evaluate the chosen method and compare this with alternative possibilities;
good research acknowledges its own limitations
Rather than propose some perfect research project, the aim should be to propose research that is worthwhile and achievable with the available resources.
If a proposal provides any indication that the research might not meet the required standards of ethical behaviour the proposal will be rejected.
British Educational Research Association
Explain how the research will
The ethical conduct of a piece of research is the researcher's personal responsibility
Describe what measures will be taken to protect the interests of the participants
How will you address possible detriment to a group of pupils (if some pupils may benefit or not from practice)?
The proposal needs to explain how the research will deal with matters such as:
: through specifying the safeguards employed for those being researched
: through showing how the research respects personal rights
: through outlining the measures used (e.g. guarantees of anonymity in any reported findings from the research)
: through describing procedures for getting informed agreement
: through noting restrictions around the disclosure of information (e.g. data protection)
: through highlighting any means of avoiding bias in the research
Being honest and open
: through the avoidance of deception or misrepresentation
Upholding research integrity
: through using good quality design and suitable methods
Outcomes are not the same as findings. Be careful not to confuse the two.
Types of outcomes:
or make a presentation
Make a contribution to the
development of a theory
Finally...remember that research is about investigating questions we do not know the answers to, rather than trying to 'prove' that something works.