What is a Research Proposal and how is it Structured?
Table of Contents
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal is a brief introduction to the research that you will carry out in the near future. It is typically about five pages, and discusses your preliminary research idea, a review of the literature, objectives, problem statement, how you will conduct the research, and perhaps some preliminary results if available. Some results are helpful to convince your readers that the research you are about to perform is needed and important. A Gantt chart can also be helpful to show your readers what you will do when, so that they have an idea about the duration needed for each phase of the research. A proposal is typically written in the future tense, as the actual research has not been performed yet. In fact, the actual research is commonly changed drastically from the initial research proposal. In some cases, the final research work that is published is entirely different from the proposed work! This is because researchers tend to refine their work along the way, to the point that it sometimes changes completely when better ideas are discovered.
What is the purpose of conducting a research proposal?
The purpose of a research proposal is twofold: to explain and justify the necessity to examine a particular research subject and to outline the practical steps necessary to perform the proposed study. Because the design features and techniques for doing research are limited by the requirements of the primary discipline in which the problem exists, the rules for research proposals are more stringent and less formal than those for a general project proposal. Extensive literature reviews are included in research proposals. They must demonstrate persuasively that the planned study is necessary. Along with a justification, a proposal includes the exact methodology for doing the research in accordance with the professional or academic field’s standards, as well as the anticipated outcomes and/or benefits of the study’s completion.
What are the benefits of a research proposal?
Improve your ability to conceptualize and design a comprehensive research project;
Learn how to perform a comprehensive study of the literature in order to identify whether a research problem has been satisfactorily addressed or has been dealt ineffectively, and so improve your ability to locate relevant scholarship on your topic;
- Enhance your overall research and writing abilities;
- Identify the logical processes necessary to attain one’s study objectives;
- Conduct a critical assessment, examination, and consideration of the various approaches for collecting and evaluating data relevant to the research subject; and
- Develop an innate sense of curiosity and an ability to see yourself as an active participant in the process of conducting scholarly research.
A proposal should include all of the critical aspects necessary for constructing a completed research study, as well as sufficient information to enable readers to assess the proposed study’s validity and use. The only components of a research proposal that are missing are the study’s findings and your analysis of those findings. Finally, an effective proposal is evaluated on the basis of the quality of your writing, therefore it is critical that your proposal is cohesive, clear, and compelling.
What questions does a research proposal answer?
Regardless of the research topic or methodology chosen, all research proposals must address the following questions:
- What are your objectives? Be succinct in stating the research problem and the subject of your investigation.
- Why are you conducting the research? Along with describing your research design, you must perform a thorough evaluation of the literature and demonstrate that the topic is deserving of in-depth inquiry. Make certain you address the “So What?” question.
- How will you perform the research? Ascertain if your proposal is feasible. If you are having problems generating a research problem worth researching, consider the following ways for developing a study topic.
Avoid Common Errors
Typical pitfalls to steer clear of
- Inability to be clear and straightforward. A study proposal should be targeted and not veer off on unrelated tangents without a clear sense of purpose.
- Inadequate citation of seminal works in your literature evaluation. Proposals should be founded on fundamental research that establishes the groundwork for comprehending the issue’s evolution and breadth.
- Failure to define the context within which your study takes place [– for example, time, location, people, etc.]. As with any research work, your proposed study must tell the reader about the method through which the problem will be examined.
- Inability to construct a clear and persuading case in support of the planned research. This is critically important. In many professional environments, the research proposal is used to make the case for funding a study.
- Writing that is sloppy or imprecise, or that has bad grammar. While a research proposal does not represent a complete research project, it is expected to be well-written and adhere to the style and principles of academic writing.
- Excessive detail on little points, yet insufficient depth on key points. Your proposal should focus only on a few important research questions in order to make the case for conducting the research. Minor points, even if they are valid, should not dominate the overall story.
Getting the Proposal Process Started
As is the case with the majority of college-level academic papers, research proposals follow a similar structure throughout the majority of social scientific subjects. Proposals typically have from ten to thirty-five pages of text, followed by a list of references. However, as you begin, thoroughly read the assignment and, if anything is unclear, inquire with your professor about any additional requirements for structuring and composing the proposal.
- A excellent place to start is by asking yourself the following questions:
- What subject do I wish to study?
- Why is this subject significant?
- How does it relate to the subjects covered in my class?
- What difficulties would it assist in resolving?
- How does it build on [and hopefully surpass] previous studies on the subject?
- What precisely should I plan to accomplish, and am I capable of accomplishing it in the time available?
In general, an effective research proposal should reflect your familiarity with the subject and your excitement for performing the study. Approach it with the goal of leaving your readers thinking, “Wow, that is an intriguing idea, and I am looking forward to reading how it goes and what the outcome is!”
In the practical world of higher education, a research proposal is most frequently submitted by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or as the first step toward obtaining permission to write a PhD dissertation. Even if this is a simple course assignment, approach the introduction as the beginning pitch for an idea or a comprehensive evaluation of the significance of a research subject. After reading the introduction, your readers should not only comprehend what you are trying to do, but also feel your enthusiasm for the subject and excitement about the study’s probable outcomes. Take note that the majority of proposals do not begin with an abstract [summary].
Consider your opening as a two- to four-paragraph story that quickly addresses the following four questions:
- What is the primary research question?
- What is the study’s topic in relation to the research problem?
- How should the research problem be analyzed?
- Why is this research relevant, what is its importance, and why should someone reading the proposal be concerned about the planned study’s results?
Background of the study, contributions and significance
This is the section in which you explain the background of your idea and outline why it is necessary. It can be incorporated into your introduction or distinct to aid in the organizing and narrative flow of your proposal. Approach authoring this section with the understanding that your readers will not be as knowledgeable about the research problem as you are. Take note that this portion is not an essay summarizing all you have learned about the subject; rather, you must choose what is most pertinent to expressing the research’s objectives.
While there are no prescriptive guidelines for determining the significance of your planned study, you should address some or all of the following points:
- Declare the research problem and provide a more detailed explanation of the study’s goal than you did in the introduction. This is especially critical if the issue is complex or multifaceted.
- Justify your suggested study and demonstrate why it is worthwhile; make sure to include an answer to the “So What?” question [i.e., why should anyone care].
- Describe the primary difficulties or problems that your research will address. This can take the form of open-ended queries. Make a point of describing how your proposed study expands on prior assumptions about the research problem.
- Describe the research approaches you want to apply. Clearly identify the primary sources you intend to consult and explain how they will aid in your topic analysis.
- Define the parameters of your proposed research to establish a clear focus. Not only should you clarify what you intend to explore, but also which components of the research subject will be left out.
Provide definitions for essential concepts or terminology as necessary.
Review or Survey of the Existing Literature
A component of your proposal dedicated to a more deliberate assessment and synthesis of earlier studies relevant to the research problem under inquiry is connected to the context and significance of your study. The objective of this section is to situate your project within the broader context of current research while proving to your viewers that your work is unique and distinctive. Consider the questions that other researchers have asked, the methods they used, and your interpretation of their findings and, where applicable, their suggestions.
Given the information density of a literature review, it is critical that this part is intelligently organized to enable the reader to grasp the fundamental ideas underlying your planned study in comparison to the work of other researchers. A suitable method is to divide the material into “conceptual categories” [themes] rather than reporting sets of things sequentially or chronologically. Noting that conceptual categories often emerge after reading the majority of relevant literature on your issue, adding new categories is a continuous process of discovery as you evaluate further studies. How can you know if you have addressed all of the critical conceptual categories found in the study literature? By and large, you may be confident that all key conceptual categories have been discovered when you begin to notice recurrence in the conclusions or recommendations stated.
Do not be afraid to challenge prior research conclusions used to justify this need your proposal. Evaluate what you believe is missing and explain how prior research has fallen short of adequately examining the issue addressed in your study.
Consider the “five C’s” of writing a literature review to assist in framing your proposal’s review of prior research:
Cite to ensure that the major focus of your research is on the literature relevant to your research subject.
Contrast the various arguments, theories, methods, and findings conveyed in the literature: where do the authors concur? Who else analyzes the research question in a similar manner?
Compare and contrast the many arguments, topics, techniques, approaches, and debates stated in the literature: explain the significant points of contention, controversy, or debate among scholars.
Criticize the literature to determine which assertions are more persuasive and why. Which procedures, approaches, and findings appear to be the most reliable, legitimate, or appropriate, and why? Take note of the verbs you employ to characterize an author’s statements/actions [e.g., claims, demonstrates, argues, etc.].
Connect the literature to your very own area of research and investigation: how does your own work build on, depart from, synthesize, or expand on what has been said in the literature?
This part has to be well and rationally organized since, while you are not conducting the study, you must convince your reader that it is worthwhile to pursue. The reader will never get a study outcome on which to base his or her assessment of your methodological choices. Thus, the purpose of this section is to persuade the reader that your entire research design and proposed methods of analysis will adequately address the problem and that the methods will enable effective interpretation of the potential results. Your research design and methodology should be undeniably linked to the study’s specific objectives.
Define the overall research design by drawing on and expanding on examples from your literature review. Consider not only the methods used by other researchers, but also those which have not been used but could be. Be specific about the methods you intend to use to collect data, the techniques you intend to use to analyze the data, and the external validity tests to which you commit [i.e., the trustworthiness with which you can describe and explain from your study to other people, places, events, and/or time periods].
Describe the research procedure you will use and the manner in which you will interpret the findings in connection to the study problem. Not only should you describe what you hope to accomplish with the methods you choose, but also how you intend to spend your time implementing them [e.g., coding text from interviews to identify statements on the need to change school curriculum; running a regression to determine if there is a relationship between campaign advertising on social sites and European election outcomes].
Bear in mind that the methodology section is not simply a list of tasks; it is also an argument for why these tasks add up to the most effective way to examine the research problem. This is critical because simply listing the tasks to be completed does not establish that they collectively answer the research questions. Ensure that you explain this clearly.
Anticipate and acknowledge possible obstacles and pitfalls associated with implementing your research design, and explain how you intend to overcome them. Because no method is perfect, you must describe any difficulties you believe may exist in data gathering or accessing information. It is always preferable to acknowledge this than to have your professor bring it up.
Preliminary Hypotheses and Underlying Implications
Simply because you are not required to conduct the study as well as analyze the results does not mean you can avoid discussing the analytical process and potential consequences. The purpose of this section is to demonstrate how and in what ways you believe your research will contribute to the refinement, revision, or expansion of the existing knowledge in the subject area under investigation. Depending on the study’s aims and objectives, indicate how the predicted findings will influence future academic research, theory, practice, intervention methods, or policymaking. Notably, such conversations may be significant on a substantive or theoretical or methodological level.
When considering the possible ramifications of your work, consider the following:
- What might the findings imply in terms of challenging the study’s theoretical framework and underlying assumptions?
- What additional research could be suggested as a result of the study’s probable outcomes?
- What will the findings mean for practitioners working in their natural environments?
- Will the findings have an effect on programs, methodologies, and/or types of intervention?
- What role might the findings play in resolving social, economical, or other forms of problems?
- Will the findings have an effect on policy decisions?
- How will your study benefit individuals or groups?
- What will the proposed research enhance or change?
- How will the study’s findings be implemented, and what breakthroughs or transformational insights might arise during the process?
This portion should avoid irrational speculation, opinion, or formulations based on ambiguous evidence. The goal of this section is to reflect on gaps or understudied regions in the existing literature and to explain how your proposed research would contribute to a new knowledge of the research challenge if conducted as planned.
Conclusion and recommendations for future work
The conclusion restates the significance or importance of your proposal and summarizes the entire investigation. This part should be no more than one or two paragraphs in length and should emphasize why the research problem is worth examining, why your research project is unique, and how it will expand existing knowledge.
Anyone who reads this section should gain an understanding of:
- Why should the study be conducted,
- The study’s precise objective and the research topics it seeks to address
- The rationale for selecting the research design and methodology used over alternative approaches.
- The ramifications that your suggested study of the research problem may have, and
- A sense of how the study fits into the larger body of scholarship on the research topic.
References/Bibliography and In-Text Citations
As is the case with any scientific research article, you must cite your sources. This component of a normal research proposal can take one of two formats; confer with your professor to determine which is favored.
The references list at the end of your proposal should contain a list of only the works cited or cited in your proposal. This part should demonstrate that you conducted sufficient preparation work to ensure that your study will complement, rather than duplicate, the efforts of other researchers. Create a new page and center the header “References” or “Bibliography” at the top.
The parenthetical and narrative in-text citations should always be in a standard format that adheres to the writing style recommended by the discipline in which you are enrolled, such as APA, Chicago, IEEE, etc. This part is typically not included in the total page count of your research proposal.
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