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The Research Proposal

The research proposal is a type of academic paper that covers the overall plan of action for a research study. A good research proposal does the following:

The purpose of the research proposal is twofold:

At APUS the research proposal is referred to as the Capstone thesis proposal and is discussed in the End of Program Assessment Manual for Graduate Studies (aka the EOP Manual). The current version of the manual may be downloaded from the Master’s Studies page  (APUS login credentials required) .

Resources for developing a research proposal:

The Sage Research Methods Database provides a wealth of information regarding the research proposal.  Use the search term “research proposal” to discover articles and videos about proposals. 

The APUS Library does not collect student research proposals. For graduate students doing their capstone project the  End of Program Assessment Manual for Graduate Studies (aka EOP Manual) covers what should be included in the proposal.

NOTE: Keep in mind that there are specific formatting requirements for proposals submitted at APUS that may differ from those you see used at other schools. The AMU/APU requirements may be found in the EOP Manual.

You can find example proposals from other universities by searching the open web via Google (or any other favorite search engine). Look for URLs that end in edu . For example, if you will be using Chicago or Turabian style for citations in your paper, search for "Turabian sample research proposal" or "Chicago example research proposal," etc. Turabian is based on Chicago style: you'll find the Chicago examples helpful.

NOTE: Abbreviated information on the APA, Bluebook, Chicago, MLA, and Turabian guides can be found in [email protected]:

APUS students also have access to the licensed copies of the complete Chicago Manual of Style Online and  The Bluebook Online .

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Designing a Research Question

Generating Research Ideas

Choose a topic that is of genuine interest to you. If you’re unsure where to start, try doing some of the following to get some ideas.

Focusing Preliminary Topics

After you have a preliminary research topic, you will focus it to narrow down the scope of your inquiry to a testable question. Testable questions often begin with How , What , When , Who , or Which .

Make sure you complete any safety training prior to starting theexperiment.

Follow all applicable guidelines for the proper handling of nonhuman vertebrates, human subjects, and biological hazards. If you plan to use human subjects under 18 years of age in your study, you must obtain consent from their parent/guardian.

Research Design

The structure of an experiment is called the research design . The design of the experiment helps determine the likelihood of success and reliability of results. 

The hypothesis is a tentative explanation for a connection between an observed phenomenon and what you want to test. Writing hypotheses to be tested through experiments and observations is central to doing research (Gordon 2007). By transforming your question into a hypothesis statement, you accomplish several critical research design steps.

In writing a hypothesis, you will

Differences Between a Research Question and a Hypothesis

Question: What effect does temperature have on planaria reproduction? Hypothesis: If the speed of planaria reproduction is related to temperature, then planaria in lower temperatures will reproduce more slowly than planaria in higher temperatures.

You should write your hypothesis after you do your preliminary research but before you begin your experiment.

How Do You Formulate a Good Research Question?

While a good research question allows the writer to take an arguable position, it DOES NOT leave room for ambiguity.

Checklist of Potential Research Questions in the Humanities (from the Vanderbilt University Writing Center):

Checklist of Research Question in the Sciences and Social Sciences

While all research questions need to take a stand, there are additional requirements for research questions in the sciences and social sciences. Specifically, they need to have reproducible outcomes. Unreliable data in the original research does not allow for a strong or arguable research question.

In addition, you need to consider what kind of problem you want to address. Is your research trying to accomplish one of these four goals?

Moreover, the research question should define the experiment's variables and their relationships to one another. It should also state something about the testing of those relationships.

There are two types of data that can help shape research questions in the sciences and social sciences: quantitative and qualitative data. While quantitative data focuses on the numerical measurement and analysis between variables, qualitative data examines the social processes that give rise to the relationships, interactions, and constraints of the inquiry.

Writing After the Research Question

The answer to your research question should be your thesis statement. Keep in mind that you will most likely continue to refine your thesis statement as you conduct and write about your research. A good research question, however, puts you well on your way to writing a strong research paper.

Adapted from: Vanderbilt University Writing Center NSTA STEM Student Research Handbook

The AAR program is a unique opportunity for Palo Alto Unified School District students, in grades 10-12, to engage in original research in an area of their choosing. Students are paired with mentors who are experts in the field of the student's choosing.

Advanced Authentic Research 25 Churchill Avenue Palo Alto, CA 94306


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